September 2012 Archives

Fun / Not Fun

Chris Dickson sent me down some rabbit holes today.  I'll start by reproducing some links:

Clavis Cryptica: "A forgotten letter.  A secret code.  A treasure map.  An overgrown path.  A rusted lock.  A door, long unopened. If these are the kinds of things that make your heart race, then welcome to Clavis Cryptica;  a place for puzzle-lovers and mystery-solvers to find and share new adventures."

Ludocity: "A collection of pervasive games, street games and new sports - social forms of play that take place in public spaces, such as city streets, parks and public buildings."

I wound up at a thread discussing what is and isn't fun about live game (or if you prefer, Game) events.  To summarize:

Fun:
  • Feeling like a hero
  • Pushing past what you thought were your limits
  • Seeing your actions affect the game world
  • Coming up with a creative solution and having it work
  • Making decisions
  • Being afraid (momentarily)
  • Winning
  • Getting respect from other players after doing something cool
  • Having a story to tell afterward
  • Seeing a familiar environment in a different light
  • Camaraderie and friendly rivalry with other players
  • Having a sense of how well you did compared to others
  • Outwitting another human (player or NPC)
Not fun:
  • Waiting
  • Listening to rules
  • Rule ambiguity
  • Feeling like you can't win
  • Winning or losing too easily
  • Not knowing what actions are permissible
  • Worrying about your safety
  • Being lost
  • Feeling like you're missing out
  • Technical failures
  • Repetition
Though written about live events, much of these lists applies equally to other game forms.  What would you add?
Comment (1) | last by Steve, Sep 27, 12:04 PM
...you're deal with the devil may have expired.

Just caught up on the first episode of Survivor's new season, which turned out to be three fascinating case studies of how returning players handle their reintroduction to the game.

Michael Skupin presents as the least threatening of the three, and not surprisingly he fared most successfully with his tribe.  His enthusiastic work ethic came off as charming, and his propensity for accidents (seriously dude, slow down and take care of yourself out there!) made him seem even less threatening.  His approach of "go with the game" instead of having a preconceived plan of how to act seems very smart, and got him into a dominant alliance where he'll be safe until the first merge (I'm expecting the 3 tribes to reshuffle into two tribes in about 4 weeks),

I'm also rooting for Lisa Welchel.  The deck is so stacked against her (famous, older woman, not part of the dominant alliance) that she's got to be the biggest underdog of the season.  Michael wants to work with her, but doesn't appear willing to risk his standing to do it.  Previews for tonight's episode make it look like she's on the rocks, but I'm hoping she lasts long enough to get a real chance.  For someone who's seen every episode of the show, though, it doesn't look like she got there with any real game plan.  As an older person, my strategy would be to forge an alliance on day one with anyone who will have me.  I wouldn't care who they were, I'd just want to get numbers on my side.  We don't know what got edited out, but we didn't see Lisa doing anything like that.

Jonathan Penner has the shadiest reputation among the three returnees.  He's shrewd, savvy, and experienced-- that makes him a threat.  Instead of rallying his tribe around him and building bridges, he's playing a more independent game that looks like it's going to get him into trouble.  His tribe already doesn't trust him and wants him out.  He needs to change that, fast.  

Russell Swan was a disaster from jump.  In his head, he knows exactly what he needs to do-- hang back, be supportive but not aggressive, don't take the lead.  Above all, don't make waves.  But it's like he's George Costanza, and all he can do is the exact opposite of what he should be doing.  He immediately began alienating his tribemates by ordering them around and taking charge.  Watching this episode was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

And then... Zane.  We haven't seen someone this cocky since Russell Hantz, and we've never seen anyone overplay his hand so completely.  Making alliances with everyone is one thing-- it's bold, because if anyone talks it can blow up in your face so early.  But telling people about it is something else.  No good could possibly come of approaching 2 people for an alliance, and telling them that you already have alliances with everyone else and can get them to do what you want.  Immediately your credibility is out the window.

Throwing yourself under the bus after a challenge loss, however, was pure insanity.  Zane's tribe wanted to vote out Russell.  It was a foregone conclusion.  Then Zane, not content to merely have alliances with everyone, felt the need to demonstrate an ability to manipulate everyone.  It wasn't important to his game. It was important to his ego.  He talked himself right off the island.  The crazy thing is that his tribemates seemed to genuinely like him.  He was in a great position!  But when someone says, "This is harder than I thought, I don't think I have what this game takes," people listen.  After another few days, his relationships might have been strong enough to be able to pull that stunt successfully.  On day 3, he became an easy vote.  Keep the strong guy who annoys us but performs better in challenges, get rid of the funny guy who seems weaker and ready to quit.

Even as the votes were being read, I thought Russell was going home.  I literally squealed in delight as the Zane landslide thundered out of the voting box.  The guy was too cocky too soon, and I wallowed in the schadenfreude.  I wonder if Mark Burnett shed a tear, because Zane was going to be fantastic television.  As a character, he died far, far too soon.  As a player he died at just the right time.

The Russell Effect

Big Brother spoilers follow.  You have been warned.

I'll start off by saying that I think Ian is a perfectly fine winner.  A few weeks ago, I told Wife that I was rooting for Frank, Ian, or Dan to win.  So this definitely isn't a season where someone who didn't deserve it got the nod.  Ian played a smart game, made some good moves, and won competitions when he needed to win.  However, it bears pointing out that he also got insanely lucky.  Had Dan not beguiled Danielle into using the veto on Dan, resulting in Shane getting evicted, Ian would have been on the jury.  Ian owes his money far more to Dan's gameplay than his own.

Which brings us to Dan.  No matter how you look at it, the his survival to the final two was nothing short of miraculous.  Actually, that's unfair to Dan.  It wasn't divine intervention that got him there, it was a lot of hard, meticulous work.  The man tapdanced, frog-stepped, backflipped and pirouetted to the finals.  His adeptness at keeping himself alive and getting others to do his bidding was a thing of beauty to behold.  Janelle was right when she said that Dan not winning was a travesty.

Except that it wasn't.  Dan fell victim to the Russell Effect.  He was so focused on reaching the finals that he lost sight of what it was costing him to get there.  I actually think he was fine right up until he pulled the Shane switcheroo.  Had Ian gone home that week and Dan made it to the finals, I think he would have beaten Shane or Danielle.  Then again, without that switcheroo he might not have made it that far.  Shane would have taken Danielle, and after the gymnastics date they went on together, Danielle might well have taken Shane.  Dan would have had to win the final HoH competition to secure his position in the finals, and with only 2 correct answers it's unlikely he would have done so.  I got the sense that the jury didn't object to the betrayals themselves, but rather the levels of the promises he broke: swearing on the bible, his wife's name, his grandfather's cross (was it really his grandfather's cross?  How brilliant would it be if Dan had lied to Ian about that to make his promise seem more ironclad, but in fact it was just a dime store piece of jewelry?).  By raising the stakes with those oaths and then going back on them, Dan invited the jury to question his character.  Where a juror might judge themselves a hypocrite for knocking Dan for doing the same sort of lying they did but getting further in the game with it, they could feel morally superior to Dan because they hadn't broken oaths.  Just about everyone lies at some point during Big Brother, if for no other reason than to lay low and keep the heat off themselves.  Swearing on a loved one, however, crosses a line for most people, and Dan failed to factor that into his calculations.

Dan does deserve special mention for getting not one, but both of his opponents to throw the first stage of the final HoH competition.  Insanity!  Ironically, Dan probably had a better chance of success in round 2 than Danielle had.

This was the best season of Big Brother in recent memory.  On to Survivor!

Balls!

This is absolutely incredible.  Some of the individual components are delightfully whimsical in how the move the balls forward (or upward, or downward, or sideways, or slantways...).  I love the section with the 3 catapults shooting baskets!  That this was all made with Lego bits just makes it even more amazing.  Where was this stuff when I was a kid?

Dan, Dan, Dan

It's amazing to me to see how the Big Brother audience has turned on Dan.  In his first season, Dan was America's Player, performing tasks voted on by the viewing audience.  Other than whatever shenanigans America asked him to perform, he played a very clean, honest game.  This time out he felt-- and rightly so-- that he had to switch things up.  Having won the game once, playing with the same strategy wasn't likely to work for him a second time.  He's been pulling off astounding feats of player manipulation, including a Svengali-like control over Danielle.  There was no reason at all for her to use the veto on Dan this week.  She trusted Shane, and Shane's vote was the only one that mattered.  Shane would have voted Ian out, leaving Dan safe.  But Dan wanted Shane gone, and the only way to make that happen was to get him onto the block in his place.  To do that, he had to lie to Danielle, who's been nothing but completely loyal and devoted to Dan all game long.

And this, I think, was Dan's fatal mistake.

Whatever else Dan did, he could point to being completely loyal to Danielle throughout the game.  Even though he pulled some fast ones on her along the way, he had a plausible story for all of those moves being in her best interest.  This time, though, it just doesn't fly.  If Dan makes it to the final two, I think it'll come back to haunt him with the jury.

What are the likely outcomes of each possible final HoH winner?

If Ian wins, he should get rid of Dan.  Ian should be able to beat Danielle handily, having played a much craftier game while still being well-liked.  But Ian appears to be loyal to Dan, and may believe that Dan has burned enough people that he's the safer choice to take to the end.  He might even be right, but I think Danielle is the safer choice.

If Danielle wins, I don't think she can beat Ian.  She has to take Dan with her to the end and rely on her sweetness and loyalty swaying the jury, because her game skills were nonexistant.  Had Ian been voted out instead of Shane, I'm not sure what she would have done.  And after Dan's deepest betrayal yet, it's hard to see her picking Dan strictly out of loyalty.

If Dan wins, he has to pick Danielle.  They've been inextricably intertwined for the entire season, and Dan's unquestionably made bigger moves than Danielle.  If the jury votes with their heads, he clearly "deserves it" more than she does on the basis of their gameplay.  If the jury votes with their hearts, however, Dan's in big trouble.  And no matter which way they vote, I don't think Dan can beat Ian.

This has been a terrific season of Big Brother, quite possibly the best one yet, and I'm really looking forward to the finale.

Best Craigslist Ads

This Quora thread about the best Craigslist ads is epic.  Great stuff.

The Pyramid

As far as I'm concerned, Pyramid may well be the best game show format ever devised.  It's certainly in the top three.  When GSN announced they were reviving the show, fans got excited.  Tonight's premiere showed that the production team understands what makes the format work, but not quite what makes it sing.

The last time we saw Pyramid, it was hosted by Donny Osmond and was plagued by poor visual and structural design choices.  Each round was shortened from 30 to 20 seconds in an effort to squeeze in more commercial breaks.  Judging was inconsistent.  The set design was heavily influenced by the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? school of dark spaces and naked steel.  None of the changes were for the better, and the show was fairly universally reviled.

This time out they decided to keep it classic.  The set is directly descended from that of the original series.  Since this is the 21st century, the pyramid of mechanical trilons has been replaced with a same-size digital display that simulates mechanical card-flips and feels right at home.  Aside from a more yellow-leaning color scheme, the set feels like someone handed a design team a tape of Dick Clark's show and said, "make this."

The gameplay likewise echoes the Clark era with just a couple of minor alterations.  The "Lucky 7" and "7-11" bonus categories are gone, so there's nothing to hunt for on the board.  This is a mistake, as it removes a great little moment of drama as each category gets revealed, but that's relatively small potatoes.  Instead, any time a team gets all 7 items in 30 seconds, they get a $500 bonus and $5000 added to the jackpot if they make it to the Winner's Circle.  That's a nice change that makes each category count.  Tiebreakers use a "get as many as you can in 30 seconds" approach instead of the original "beat the first team's total or, if they got all 7, beat their time" system.  The new way is easier to explain and understand, and simpler is usually better, so I'll chalk that one up as a net positive.

So overall, the structure and gameplay are faithful to the original, which is great news for Pyramid fans.  But a few things don't work.

The Pyramid Winner's Circle is a brilliant piece of game design, but they've gotten a couple of things wrong here.  In the Winner's Circle, the audience is either completely silenced in the studio or muted after the fact, so that there is no applause or audience reaction of any kind during play.  I missed it.  The applause between categories gave the Winner's Circle some of its energy, and it feels oddly sterile without it.  They also have the rhythm a little off.  When the host announces "Here's the first subject... go!" the first subject should actually be revealed before "Go!".  Instead the clock starts and then the subject flips, burning off a couple of seconds from the clock and starting the round off with a lot less punch than it should.

The biggest problem with the show is the host, Mike Richards.  He's certainly serviceable, but he lacks warmth.  Watching Richards makes you appreciate how masterful Dick Clark was at his craft.  Clark was simultaneously perfectly relaxed and completely in control.  More importantly, he created a sense of intimacy.  There appeared to be a real rapport between Clark and his guests, and he talked to the players with a casual familiarity that gave the entire show a kind of mellow, easy-going vibe that made it a pleasure to watch.  Richards is coming from more of a Guy Smiley place-- though thankfully he lands far short of Todd Newton.  He's projecting his voice rather than talking conversationally.  He's announcing instead of guiding.  He's new at the gig, so I hope he'll warm into it, because everything else is there.  This is a very worthy successor to the original.

Now I need to dig up the email address for contestant applications...
If you're on Facebook and you're not playing You Don't Know Jack, why the hell not?  It's awesome, and it's free.  Go.

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