Abstract Movement

One of the projects that I was quite excited to do in my first semester at RPI was code a piece of interactive art using Processing (which builds off of Java code).

This piece that I call “Abstract Movement” takes a number of different basic shapes in abstract art and puts them together in an interactive experience.

Media Studio Imaging was a class that I merely took to help fulfill an elective requirement, but I was surprised at how it actually provided unique and very relevant opportunities for me as I pursue my studies in computer science and engineering.

A Look into an Overlooked Hobby

Within my final project in Media Studio Imaging, I wanted to showcase tabletop gaming, a very enjoyable hobby of mine,  in a way comparable to the highly advertized video gaming hobby. While video games flood modern media outlets, modern board games, card games, and miniatures games receive little to no attention. Video games are often heralded for their beautiful graphics when the innovative and fascinating art designs of tabletop games gain little attention. In addition, there are unique benefits to the tabletop gaming hobby that is not seen in the video gaming hobby (such as always having the multiplayer interaction local, not needing to additionally buy a console, and not needing to worry about backwards compatibility).

Now, my intent is not to say that I dislike the video game hobby (I even find it is much better for solo gaming), but it is, in fact, to present these images in the hope of gaining more attention for an often overlooked hobby.

 

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Who is in control?

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This collage that I created, inspired by Fritz Kahn’s “Man as Industrial Palace”, emphasizes how far technology has been integrated into our lives. Now, so much of our senses are filtered through various forms of technology that it is also as if technology has become a part of our being, a part of our DNA. Thus, man and machine are interconnected, and the extent of our connection appears to continually grow over time. So now, the important question, is, “Who is ultimately under control?” While I am a strong advocate for the benefits of technological advances, I also warn against the possibility that these devices control our lives. We must maintain human control.

A New View

Fear and anxiety: two emotions that we recognize as commonly plaguing our lives.  And it is generally accepted that they produce ill effects on our moral and health. However, what if that was not the entire truth? What if there was actually a strong benefit to fear and anxiety? What if they actually made us better and stronger?

Well, that is one of the intriguing ideas that I took from Psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s talk at the TED Conference. Now, I am not sure how well I would be able to accept stress as a positive impact on my health and mind, but I will sure keep in mind how powerful the mind is over the body. Similar to the placebo effect, perhaps it is possible to manipulate stress for our benefit just by thinking it so.

However, this new perspective on fear and nervousness was again brought to my attention on one of the latest Doctor Who episodes when Peter Capaldi said, “being afraid is alright, because…fear is a super power. Fear can make you faster, and cleverer and stronger.” The adrenaline that pumps through our veins when we are afraid gives us the strength to be able to do things that we may not be able to normally do and we are kept on a heightened alert. Fear is, therefore, the ultimate mechanism for combating danger.

In conclusion, I would say that fear and anxiety can be pure forces of good only in the correct mindset, but that mindset might not be realistic for anyone today because of how we are brought up in this modern society. So, then, is it worth it to at least try to welcome fear and stress under a new light? I say so. The study mentioned  in Kelly McGonigal’s talk appears to suggest so, and I am all for not being afraid about being afraid and not being stressed about being stressed.

Speed vs. Quality

Efficiency versus reliability. This is one of the main issues that predominates in the modern age of technology. Is it better to release a product earlier and then improve it over time, or is it better to delay a release so as to fine tune the product and ensure that it means all of the initial expectations.

Recently, I have contemplated this with two particular instances which took opposite approaches. First of all, app design clearly tends to lean on the philosophy that the speed of the release is more important because updates and bug fixes can easily be made and implemented soon after the release and can be made continually with only minor interruptions to the user. However, I personally find this philosophy unsatisfactory at times, especially when an update is released for an app which supposedly improves the design but actually also hinders its functionality (thus calling for another update). The YouVersion Bible app for Android, for instance, was rendered unusable in its most recent update due to the fact that it now crashes immediately after opening it. Now, I know for a fact that this app was functional and very well designed before this update. When looking at this example, it is clear how proper care and testing would have made the difference between a useful and a useless app.

In comparison, however, I would also like to look at a very different market, Kickstarter. I have paid the most attention to board game projects on Kickstarter (since playing strategy board games is a hobby of mine), but the debate on quality versus faster releases has been discussed across the board on Kickstarter. One project in particular that lives and breathes the philosophy of quality over the speed of releases is the Alien Frontiers 4th Edition Kickstarter project and the Rocket Dice Kickstarter project. Both projects are reaching toward being a year overdue, but both projects emphasize great attention to quality. In addition to fulfilling stretch goals which were not originally intended at the announcement of the release dates, the designers have taken care to start over with new materials if the samples were not up to standards and constantly having the backing community double check for any errors that the designers missed. This may seem ideal to a consumer, like me, who so highly appreciates quality, but I am still left with a frustrating feeling of how long I must wait for a projects that were supposed to be completed nearly a year ago.

So what can we gather from this debate? The general principle that I can gather is that it is important for the producer to stick to his/her promises. If you promised to create a product with such and such features and with a professional quality, then fulfill those promises. If you promised to have the product completed and handed to consumers for a certain deadline, then meet that deadline. Now, to address the concern of rushed releases, producers must use beta testing and prototypes to accomplished quick releases. As a result, errors are expected, but a much-anticipated hands-on experience can be provided.

Top 10 Board Games (#1)

1. Memoir ’44

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And finally, my number one favorite game, Memoir ’44. To me, this is a masterpiece. The card driven mechanics which gives orders to the three sides of the battlefield is absolutely excellent at adding enough randomness and another layer of strategy, while also capturing the element of the confusion of war. The combat is simple, but effective. The game is so widely replayable, with easily customizable battlefields and a myriad of scenarios involving many different special units. This is the go-to two player strategy game, as well as one of the best World War II board games in my opinion.

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I suppose, though, I should mention that this game really holds a special place on my shelf because it largely introduced me to the board gaming hobby. I love how this game can be played in an hour, and yet still provides a very intriguing battle experience that can sometimes create an interesting story. And if one battle just isn’t enough, there are campaigns that you can play through: a set of five games that respond to the wins and loses of two opposing forces within the context of the actually campaigns of World War II.

Anyway, I am sure that it is clear how much I like Memoir ’44 (I mean, I even have the box of the base game signed by the designer). I think that I have really surprised my friends with this game at how unique it is and how it changes people’s perspective of a World War II game. This game is easily accessible, and it is one of the most replayable games out there.

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Top 10 Board Games (#2)

2. Lords of Waterdeep (w/ expansion)

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Now this game was a slight surprise for me. I only got introduced to this game last summer, when I tried it at the WBC convention. I then later got the game along with the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion as a gift. After multiple plays, I can certainly say that this game hits almost all of the right points.

It is a very smooth and elegant worker placement game. Simply take turns having your agents navigate the town, collecting resources and recruiting different people in order to complete unique missions. Complete quests to gain points, and then move on to the next. However there are intriguing strategies at multiple levels. You need to consider when is the best time to claim a spot and lock out your opponents for this turn. You have to consider what order to complete quests in and what set of quests to complete in order to maximize momentum and bonus points. You have to consider when to play your Intrigue cards so as to best help yourself and best hinder your opponents.

Now the theme; that is an issue that has certainly been debated. This is a Euro game at heart, there is no doubt about that. Mechanics do play a much larger role than theme. However, the story-telling text on the cards and the overall atmosphere of the game does provide an interesting overlord view of Dungeons and Dragons. For anyone who has played or appreciates this roleplaying, there will certainly be enjoyment from the modest thematic elements of the game.

However, without the expansion, this game would not be this high of the list. The expansion significantly increases depth to the strategies and increases the choices that a player can make, including more risk and reward choices. After the initial games without the expansion, I soon found that momentum was difficult to find and that many turns were quite straight forward. This expansion does do an excellent job at fixing these issues and making the game a much more engaging experience.

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The one reason I think this game is set higher than Alien Frontiers is that it provides a gaming experience that is more engaging and interactive with the players. Since you take turns placing your agents and do not place them all at once, you are often paying attention to what the other players are doing on the board and you can sufficiently plan. In Alien Frontiers, the worker placement mechanism is quite different in that you have to place all your ships (workers) out at once on your turn, and sometimes you feel like you can simply walk away from the table for a few minutes if a player is taking long enough to decide what to do on their turn, because all of your plans could change after that player places his five or six ships on the board.

Overall, I would highly recommend this game. The base game, by itself, is a great start (especially for relatively new board gamers), but the game with the expansion is the “gamer’s” game.

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by David J. Glowny