Feature

AEGIS: A Locally Developed Strategy Boardgame Kickstarter Success

 

Hello! Just letting you all know that a game we played and enjoyed which was developed by some local folks out in Worcester had a fine showing in a recent Kickstarter to which you can still contribute! There are eight more days to go and a few more stretch goals to unlock, like custom dice!

Mostly this is a reminder to you that you can use the Kickstarter as a pre-order of a fun locally developed game if you’d like! We wrote about playing it previously and it boils down to being a very quick to set up and play tactics game in the vein of Battletech but without all the incredibly detailed fiddliness and with the silliness of robots that become arms and legs for bigger robots.

Not certain if that sounds like your thing? Try the demo on tabletop simulator!

Get your copy today!

 

NERDSummit Announces Sessions!

[Once again full disclosure the folks at NERD give me some money in exchange for marketing stuff, but fuller disclosure it’s not like this isn’t basically what I’d write for free regardless so they’re kind of paying me just to remind me to do that thing I meant to do anyway PLEASE no one tell them that.-Ed.]

NERDSummit is coming up March 18th – 19th at the UMass Integrated Sciences Building! It’s going to be no cost, a heck of a time, and it’s going to have food for attendees but some people say even more importantly than the food they are also going to have some really excellent speakers! We’ve chosen to highlight a few of the ones for each day that caught our eye.

Saturday, March 18th

First off is the one we’re most excited about, Richard Stallman & Micky Metts! They’re going to be giving a talk called The JavaScript Trap about how horrible JavaScript can be and we are interested in hearing knowledgeable people explain that to us. We already kind of hate JavaScript because people toss it about like it’s necessary for every danged button but we also know there are some more technical reasons that ubiquitous JavaScript isn’t a great idea from a useability or security perspective. Richard Stallman is one of the founders of the Free Software movement and the GNU project, so you 100% used something he helped create when you were in college and first found out that Photoshop costs $800. Micky Metts is a free software activist who has done a lot of great work cooperatively developing using free software for you, personally! Very kind of her.

Mike Miles will be giving a talk called Inclusive Design: Thinking Beyond Accessibility. What’s interesting about this talk is the fact that it goes further than just how to make your work functionally accessible to people who aren’t exactly like you. Thinking about how to include other folks to the extent that they actively find your work easy to use and joyful is important and it’s easy to let it slide because you don’t necessarily think about how other people are going to interact with your creations every time you make something.

Finally The Modern Woman in Tech with Christina Gleason seems like a good chance to look beyond specific technologies and to think about the culture surrounding a lot of the work that folks at NERDSummit will be discussing. What barriers exist for women, and what unique challenges do they face? How can we handle the current environment while working to break down walls? All important questions that deserve a lot of attention!

Sunday, March 19th

Thomas Dodson will discuss DIY Digital Signage, something that we’ve noticed more often recently. Lots of organizations buy expensive signs that are kind of both ugly and not all that flexible. Thomas has some solutions that are cheap and flexible, and shares some lessons that the folks at the Harvard Library learned implementing a DIY signage system.

Anne Merritt will be talking about Visual Programming with Scratch, a great way to introduce coding concepts to folks without requiring a lot of syntactical expertise early. Scratch uses literal building blocks of code to create basically anything you can think of, making it a lot easier for people new to programming concepts to start and finish useful projects quickly.

Finally Jeremy Kauffman will be giving a presentation called Content Freedom: An Introduction to LBRY which is appropriately enough about LBRY, an open-source protocol that’s supposed to make it easy to find, distribute, and purchase content. As we’re always really happy that we have a ton of comic photos we don’t need to attribute because we took them, the idea of finding a nice way to actually find content from other people sounds delightful!

So that’s a rundown of a few really neat sounding sessions out of a whole bunch! There are a total of 42 sessions on the site so if the above don’t catch your interest something probably will!

The Second Anniversary!

Hello! My name is James and I am the person who writes these newsletters and posts!

I actually kind of got distracted and forgot that the anniversary was on the 8th but hey whatever I got the month right!

I want to thank you, my loyal readership, for giving me a reason to keep writing because I really enjoy it. I’m also just generally happy to see that people are getting something out of them!

I don’t really know what to say about the second anniversary. I guess mostly what I feel like is that after two years of doing this and a year and a bit of helping with Nerd Nites I have been able to do a little bit to give back to a community that I appreciate.

Also it feels really nice to have written hundreds of thousands of words that were mostly useful or REALLY excellent jokes.

I still have plans for the site that are yet to come to fruition but that’s mostly because there’s a lot of other interesting stuff pulling on my time which is not the worst problem to have!

One thing I’m really invested in figuring out is how to provide a better of picture of the experience of attending a lot of different events. A consistent thing that’s arisen with folks I’ve spoken to is that they wish they could have a better idea of how to approach events that they’ve never been to. I figure I can do something to alleviate that if I work on it. Obviously I can’t do all of them personally, but I think I can figure out something useful.

At this rate a full site redesign will be coming in like a decade but hey what can you do.

If you like this site and this newsletter, I would really appreciate it if you gave me feedback about what all you’d like to see done to improve the layout and formatting or whatnot. Or if you have any feature suggestions, let me know! I’d also love to be alerted to interesting happenings around the Valley that I can post!

Also if you want to toss me money on Patreon I will appreciate it because it’s nice to have extra money to do things I feel are interesting and useful.

You’re great, thank you! Have a wonderful year! Look at the Valley Creators page and find new people whose work you’ll love!

Check Out These Copper Bookmarks Made at Goodwin Memorial Library!

Local Creator, metal-smith, and all-around nice person Heather Beck went to Goodwin Memorial Library yesterday to help some great folks make excellent copper bookmarks! They look cool as heck and we’re kind of annoyed we didn’t have a chance to produce one ourselves. It looks like a fun time making them, and the final products look legit as heck.

But don’t take our word for it, check them out below!

Not only do the final products of their work look awesome (The Empress is a personal favorite of ours) it’s also clear that the folks who were at the event have top-notch taste in books. We’ve got to go back and read all the Loki stuff…

Keep an eye out for further events at Goodwin Memorial! They do excellent stuff with regularity. And take a look at Heather Beck for more excellent work and training! Maybe commission a ring?

The Mass DiGi Open House

We went to the Mass DiGi open house yesterday! It was really cool and we want to tell you about the games we saw. They’re not all available to play for you yet, but you can see some of the excellent games of past years here!

Slime Break:

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  • Adorable
  • Like Breakout
  • Also an infinite runner kind of
  • High scores!
  • Very pretty

We had a ton of fun trying this out, it’s an idea we cannot believe hasn’t been done a hundred times because it works so well. Basically it’s like Breakout, the game where you hit a bouncy ball with a paddle to break blocks at the top of the screen, but the blocks scroll in infinitely from the right-hand side of the screen.

This basically turns it into the best version of Breakout ever, because it removes the worst part of breakout which is trying to get like 2-3 little leftover blocks on a screen you’ve mostly cleared. The one thing we didn’t love is that there are often “bombs” that clear a bunch of stuff instead of allowing you to watch the ball bounce around a bunch and the levels are a bit short and a bit repetitive. With even a tiny bit of tweaking though, this could be a really amazing game instead of just a fun one!

Comet Cats:

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  • Cats
  • Sticky cats
  • Collectible cats
  • Physics!

We were very bad at this game but it was clearly a very neat game. It’s about tossing a bunch of cats into a box and trying to build your stack of cats high enough to grab sparkles which give you more time to stack more cats to grab more sparkles!

The cats stick together if they’re the same color, and the magical nega-cat can stick to any cat, making it an exceptionally useful kitty. The gameplay is straightforward and moreish, with just enough control to make the odd accidental toppling of a precarious cat-stack hit that much harder. It needs a little bit of tweaking with the cat-generator, though! They said that the reason we were terrible might have been that too few nega-cats spawned in our games, in addition to our just being bad at it.

Takeover Trail:

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  • Realpolitik
  • Clever plans
  • A map

We lost this one real bad without completely noticing which maybe points to the win/loss condition being a bit more hidden than it needs to be. The basic play is you’re on a 4-color map where every country has a number, you start as one country generating a bit of money, and you takeover others by basically buying the “propaganda” that allows you to take over countries if you have an equal or greater amount of propaganda than they do… countryness? So buy 1 yellow propaganda, take over any yellow country with a 1 on it. Buy 2, take over any yellow 1 or 2 countries, etc.

As you take over countries you generate more cash and you occasionally need to squash rebellions. The thing that caught us out was that there’s never really push-back on the map itself to your takeover, you just keep advancing. The opposing forces are represented by a steadily ticking meter in the top of the screen, which is a bit of a difficult thing to focus on while you’re tapping about. Still, this is an interesting take on the map-takeover genre, we were a fan of the idea of doing away with combat-type stuff entirely.

Colosseum Coach:

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  • Monsters
  • Gary
  • Sunglasses
  • Flirting

We’ve got a real thing for games where you put together a little team of people, regardless of whether there’s any real effect of their being individuals on the action. Colosseum Coach lets you build a little cadre of gladiators and outfit them in cool clothes to fight monsters.

The game is absolutely charming at the moment, with evocative artwork that really gets you into the mindset of how cool sunglasses look with gladiator sandals. Unfortunately it’s also a little basic. You basically just fight/block/do an effect that lasts the entire fight. There’s something here, and we’re interested in seeing where it goes, but at the moment it definitely feels a little too much of a foregone conclusion that your fighters either win or die, because you’re kind of just going -5, okay monster did -2, we’re winning this thing in a couple taps. Still there’s a lot of room to grow in terms of adding some equipping or positioning tactical stuff, and it does look practically perfect visually.

So that’s that! The open house was fun and the folks were all really nice and we got to pet a dog. It was amazing to see what these hard-working young people managed to put together in 3 danged months, and we absolutely can’t wait to see what these games become and see what else the people on these teams make! Check out Mass DiGi for games from prior years or to get involved yourself!

New Local Webseries: Dank Dungeons!

Local heroes Dan Ouellette, Lizzy Dorrell, Lance Vincent, and Davis Hall are are exploring dark Dank Dungeons for fun and profit in a brand new local webseries!

You can meet them and hear their own explanations of their respective characters and roles in this little video series below! They’re pretty quick! In what we can only imagine was intentional editing, all of them have a real awkward like half-second or so at the end where people don’t know what they’re supposed to say.

When we spoke to the Danksters, they were anticipating their premiere episode and getting ready to shoot another in the lovely NCTV studios located in the dank dungeons of the Northampton High School.

They’re an interesting crew! Davis, the one we feel is most likely to un-ironically describe himself as a bit of a troublemaker, is studying astrophysics at UMass Amherst. Lance, a friendly if slightly quiet fellow, often works crew for local filmmakers. Lizzy, the one who told the best jokes during the interview, works admissions at Hampshire. Dan, the Dank Master (DM), has been DMing D&D sessions since he was eleven years old.

All of them were brought together by a mutual friendship with Lex Mandrake, a local who’s doing the hard work of producing the series and bringing everyone together. Most of the cast and crew of Dank Dungeon pointed to their enduring friendships with Lex as the primary reason they showed up every session, with the additional inducement that Dan is a good DM. Davis also mentioned that his life is empty of meaning between semesters,  a sort of sickening void from which any escape is relief. He didn’t use exactly those phrases but we’re pretty sure we picked up what he was putting down.

A lot of who the Danksters are seems to be reflected in their characters. Davis is the one that “role-plays” not being able to stop himself from poking and prodding and lighting on fire every object or person the team encounters. Lance is the one that calmly attempts to figure out whether or not a course of action makes any sense. And tries to wrangle his wolf, usually poorly. And finally Lizzy gravitated to a character suited to comedy, both because Wizards in Dungeon World come with a myriad of opportunities to trip over their own glass cannon status in interesting ways but also because she explicitly designed a wizard who’s trying to fit in with the cool kids by pretending she thinks reading and studying is lame.

The world reflects both the Dan as a DM and the direction he thinks his players will be interested in heading. Which is to say it’s goofy as heck. It takes place in a world that suffered a cool-pocalypse, with all of the really neat and magical stuff like dino-people and goblins and wizards banished in the aftermath to the Radlands. The players, some from the deepest Un-Cool, some from the edges of the Radlands, are tasked with entering the deepest, most awesome parts of the world in order to save it from your standard extra-double apocalypse.

Both Dan and the players said there’s little different about playing under the hot lights excepting the fact that the lights make them kind of warm. They quickly forget the fact that they’re playing for a crowd and focus on the immediate issues presented in the game. Although they’re all new to Dungeon World, they’re all veterans of other RPG systems.

Although we do think that based on the first few episodes it seems a bit tough for them to get completely immersed in their characters, despite the fact that they’re clearly comfortable playing for the cameras. We tend to see the players and the DM interact more as people playing a game than as actual inhabitants of the world.

That’s also a style thing, we think. Some people really dig into roleplay as a chance to play-act as a different person, while others are a bit more comfortable keeping themselves at arm’s length from the proceedings and focusing more on the tactical elements of the game, solving puzzles and defeating monsters with the stats they have available.

Part of what’s interesting about seeing them play is that while they seem much more comfortable with the tactical element than the role-playing one, Dungeon World is Powered by the Apocalypse. That means it’s based on local creator Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World system. This involves mostly role-play-heavy experiences based on a sort of question-and-answer mutual storytelling with much less in the way of direct tactical combat. So for instance, bad rolls involve “drawing unwanted attention” or “messing with the fabric of reality” and they’re open to a lot more interpretation by both players and the DM than simply “you missed” or “you did less damage”.

But as much as there are some early role-playing jitters, the inherent silliness of the world makes for entertaining viewing. The first episode features a Legasaurus, which is a Stegasaurus made entirely out of legs and absolutely bonkers for kicking, as well as a bunch of bumbling mummy/dinosaur fights and some classic poking the beehive by Davis/Dula.

There’s a mildly obvious DM intervention at one point via a mystical, probably evil goat that players unleash while immediately determining they’ve made a terrible mistake. It becomes a great running joke when it turns out that Lance’s character Todd the Ranger can speak with animals. Which means that all of a sudden a portentous immortal goat mystic needs to start explaining itself to the group. Also, Todd’s got some explaining to do to his wolf, who he doesn’t really realize he can speak to until late in the third episode. They also fight a huge mummy that flexes a lot and mostly attacks via power-bombs and suplexes.

There are currently three episodes, each an hour long, and we can say that it’s worth a look if you’re into actual-play RPG shows that focus on the fun. It’s also a great way to get a look at first-timers playing a game of Dungeon World! Give it a look starting at Episode One!

 

Father’s Day

You may have read a bit about my dad in the anniversary post, or in the about page. If you have, you know that due to the fact that he kicked the bucket several years ago I won’t be celebrating father’s day with him.

Which honestly, isn’t that big of a change. We didn’t really celebrate father’s day even before he croaked. He usually told us that any gifts we could manage to buy were either things he could also buy on account of having enormously more money than a couple of children, or things he didn’t really want which was why he had not bought them.

I think the only gifts he ever legitimately loved were the times when my sister and I scribbled on a t-shirt in fabric markers.

My sister and I spent a lot of time hanging out with my dad.

We used to go to the basement, which had a bit of a shorter ceiling, and stack up a big bunch of wooden blocks until we had a nice open tower with some wedges to keep it up. Then we’d huck a rubber ball at it, knocking off bricks we’d balanced on it, and trying to knock out the tougher support blocks and bring the tower crashing down, so we could have fun building a new one. It’s still one of my favorite games, I wish it was something amenable to apartment play.

He’d talk for hours about whatever thing it was we thought was important. I have fond memories of back-and-forth about whatever the Daily Show was about that night, or walking through the suburbs talking about what sort of Terran build beats a Zergling rush most effectively (I taught him to wall off the entrances with supply depots) or whether he thought we were ready to take on Diablo with the Sorceress.

It was never a mystery what my dad thought of us or what his priorities were. He loved us unconditionally, and was never happier than when we confirmed that we thought he was pretty great as well.

He never took credit for us. He always said that he was just lucky his kids were so wonderful, and not assholes like him. He’d say he stepped in mostly to prod us to keep doing more interesting things, and to remind us to respect the effort and the expertise of other people no matter how smart we thought we were.

My dad was a nerdy kid when being a nerd meant nothing particularly good. But dealing with ostracism didn’t make him bitter. He was never afraid of new people getting into his hobby or jealous that they didn’t have to deal with what he had to. He was excited to see the things he loved resonating with more people. Seeing Blade and Spider-Man and Iron Man and the Lord of the Rings and everything he’d ever thought was cool when he was 11 delighting millions of new people was an unqualified good in his mind.

I still get a bit teary-eyed whenever a new superhero flick comes out, knowing that as neat as I find them I’m never going to be as ecstatic about their mere existence as he was. I try to channel that excitement into this site, and I hope it comes through.

Every header image you see on this site is a photo of comic that my dad collected.

I’ve spent my time in the Valley meeting a lot of wonderful people. If I have met you since moving here, there are very good odds my dad would have thought you were excellent and that you would have tolerated him. I’m sad you won’t get to meet him.

I hope you have a good father’s day, whatever your situation.