60th birthday – interested?

For my 20th, 30th, 40th, and 50th birthday parties, I organized events centered on gaming. As you’ll see if you click on the links in the first sentence, for my 40th and 50th I set up a LARP party. For my 60th birthday party, I’m going to take a simpler approach and host a murder mystery.

This is not an invitation to that party, at least not yet. This is to get a general idea of how many of my friends would like to come.

All I know right now is the date of the party: Saturday, December 7, 2019; the place is somewhere in the Rockland County/Bergen Country area. The exact location, the setting of the mystery, and other details depend on how many are coming. I’m leaning towards a masquerade party, but we’ll see.

If you’d like to come to my 60th birthday party, please let me know.

Fiddly bits

  • Please let me know before mid-October.
  • You can reach me via Facebook, or send me e-mail, or text me, or call. None of my contact information has changed in the past 20 years.
  • If you reply to this WordPress blog post, please leave your name. Otherwise the only thing I’ll see is the IP address, which won’t be enough for me to know who you are.
  • Guests are fine, but please let me know how many would be coming with you. The total number of people affects the location of the party and possibly the mystery’s setting as well.
  • I’m not asking for a commitment to attend, just general interest. I will ask for a commitment when I start assigning roles for the mystery.
  • Unlike the adventures of my last three birthday parties, which I wrote, the mystery will come from a professional publisher. Even I won’t know whodunnit.
  • NO PRESENTS!

    I was a dick about this at my 40th. I was a total dick about this at my 50th. I’m prepared to go completely Richard III at my 60th.

    I don’t want stuff. I have enough stuff. Friends and laughter and back rubs are what are important to me at this point in my life.

    One more time:

    NO PRESENTS!

Geela

I first met Geela Naiman in the early 1980s. There was an SF fan gathering at my house. Sherry Nehmer, an editor at Analog, was the featured speaker. Near the end of Nehmer’s talk, a friend of hers arrived to drive her home. That friend was Geela, though I didn’t hear her name at the time.

After he rose to fan prominence, I joked about Geela’s name: We had to keep Geela Naiman from ever meeting her anti-matter duplicate, Neil Gaiman. According to a Star Trek episode, if they ever met the universe would be destroyed. Since the universe still exists, I guess we dodged a bullet.

A few years later, in 1987, I was working on my thesis experiment at Fermilab near Chicago. One of my fellow grad students was Walter. After I moved to Nyack to perform the data analysis of my experiments, I met more of Walter’s friends and became a part of that circle: Geela, John, Deborah, and Jon. Typically we played D&D together and visited Ren Faires.

John and Geela got married. They held two wedding ceremonies, one for their family and friends in the NY/NJ area, and another for those in the Chicago area. I was one of the few who attended both ceremonies.

As an outgrowth of our D&D games, I suggested that we join a LARP. Here we are:

bronze-rose
This is the Bronze Rose adventuring group at what was then NERO-NJ, circa 1991-1992. (NERO-NJ later became LAIRE, the Live-Action Interactive Role-playing Explorers.) Clockwise from the left, here are Janet, Jon, Paul, Bill, Geela, and John.

Geela played a Halfling Rogue, Periwinkle Pipe. For her role, Geela wore a gray hooded cloak and sneakers that she covered with fur. The fun thing about adventuring with Geela is that she didn’t need any special “rogue skills” for the game. When she walked through the woods dressed in her costume, you really couldn’t see her, even when she was part of our party and we knew where she was!

After a few years, the Bronze Rose group faded and they stopped coming to LAIRE.

Geela entered a more difficult time in her life. She’d had bouts of mental illness before, and they finally reached a point where she had to go on full disability. She occasionally stayed in hospitals during that time. John stood by her and did what he could.

Eventually Geela and John got divorced. It was not only mutual, it was better for both of them. In the years afterward, they’d describe themselves as “happily divorced” and say they were a much better couple now than they had been when they were married.

I hosted my 40th birthday party in 1999. It was a LARP party. Geela came dressed as her character from LAIRE, but in a more colorful outfit suitable for celebration. Here she is, dancing during a Bardic Circle we held:

dancing5

A couple of weeks after that party, Geela invited me over to her place. John was there, but he left early and I was a bit surprised. Later, I achieved understanding when Geela made a pass at me. I joyfully intercepted.

We dated for a year or so. During that time she attended some Wiccan events with me. She liked the people and the mood, but there were elements of the rituals that bothered her; for example, everyone saluting the Quarters in unison. I accepted that Wicca was not for her. It surprised me in 2002 when she attended Free Spirit Gathering, but in short rations: she stayed with Sherry Nehmer (who lived nearby) overnight, and only attended the bonfire once. For her, the wild moment of the event was when Vann painted a few simple vines her arm.

She was the one who ended our relationship. She was growing closer to her family and community, and they were Orthodox Jews. They’d never accept her dating a Wiccan. Even if I’d been willing (and I was not) to pretend to be Orthodox in their presence, for years she’d told them stories about her friend Bill the Wiccan. A switch on my part would simply not be believable.

We remained friends, though.

With her LARP experience, I thought Geela would enjoy attending Mystic Realms. She attended an event and enjoyed it, though not enough to come back. What I remember most about her visit is her leaving early and getting into difficulty. She was in the parking lot and getting her car out, when she suddenly felt weak and disoriented. I went to her, and we raided the kitchen to get her something to eat. Presently she felt better and was able to drive home.

At a later visit to my place, she commented that what she experienced at MR was one of the symptoms of her mental illness. She said it most often occurred when she was in a supermarket. She’d be a food aisle and trying to make choices, and then gray out or feel disassociated.

I commented, “To a diabetic everything seems like diabetes, but what happened at MR and at the supermarket sounds an awful lot like low blood sugar. May I use my kit to measure it?” She consented, and I got a reading of 50. For comparison, 80 is normal for most people who haven’t eaten, and we had eaten a little while before. I strongly advised her to see a doctor.

She did. The doctor took her blood sugar, saw the reading, then immediately walked out of the office. He came back with a muffin and told her “Eat this now!” She was diagnosed with hypoglycemia and was given medication for it.

I was glad I was able to help her, but I was also furious. Geela had real mental problems, and I don’t mean to diminish them. But she was also being treated as if her physical problem of low blood sugar was a psychological disorder. She was in a hospital and being treated by doctors. Why didn’t they recognize the symptoms when Geela described them? Were they so focused on mental illness that they couldn’t recognize the obvious?

Let’s shift the focus back to Geela and her love of Judaism.

I’d invite Geela every year to my Passover seder. She came to my first one in 1994, but since then she attended the one given by her family. For some reason, she was available just once in the early 2000s. She came, and my seders forever changed.

My seders are based on the practices of my family that I learned in the 60s. Geela brought ideas with her that I’d never learned: Miriam’s Cup (an acknowledgement of women in Judaism), the orange on the seder tray (an acknowledgement of gays and lesbians in Judaism). But what made the greatest impression is what we later called the “Rocky Horror Plagues.” My family had solemnly listed the ten plagues and left it at that. Geela brought with her a “ten plagues kit” with props for us to play with and scripts for us to read.

Since then, I’ve had my own kit that I bring to each Passover. For a while the hosts of my seders could look forward to cleaning up plastic locusts for a few days after each ceremony. I’ve since graduated to ten-plagues finger puppets. None of that would have happened without Geela.

Going into the 2010s, I saw Geela less frequently. We’d make plans to visit, but most of the time she had to cancel due to illness, mental or physical. I got the impression that life was getting harder for her. The last time I saw her was when she and John paid me a visit during my medical convalescence.

Last Sunday, John wrote me to let me know that Geela passed away on the evening of Saturday, September 14, 2019. She will be buried in Israel on Tuesday, September 17.

So it goes.

Postscript:

One of my students learned a few years ago that they were technically Jewish through matrilineal descent, even though none of their family in that line practiced Judaism. That student had become more interested in their Jewish heritage.

On the night Geela passed away, there was a Wiccan gathering at my place. The discussion had turned to hamsas. I had a hamsa sitting on a cabinet. It had been a gift from my mother. It was pretty, with a ying-yang symbol in the palm and several pieces of colored glass around the base of the palm. It had a Hebrew inscription, which I did not know how to read. On the back was printed “Made in Israel.”

I picked it up. I told the student, “I’ve had this for years, and I’ve never used it or carried it. If you’d like to have it, to connect you with Judaism or for any other reason, please take it.” They did.

I think Geela would have been pleased. I am saddened that my student will never get a chance to meet Geela and share their heritage with each other.

Vindication of the Dragon at the Edge of Darkness

With a title like that, you may think this post will be fanfic. Sorry to disappoint you, but it’s another one of my miniature-figure painting posts. It’s long, as usual, but this time its length is due to lots of pictures. Yay, pictures!

In my first post on painting minis, I described how I looked forward to painting the large dragon sculpture that would come with the game Volfyirion. I received the game and started to think about how I’d paint the mini.

I’d forgotten that Mysthea and Volfyirion were not the only games I Kickstarted that had minis. In short order, I received my copies of the games Vindication and Edge of Darkness. (I also received Wingspan, Pandorum, and Human Punishment 2.0, but they didn’t contain any dull gray minis.) Suddenly I had more minis than I knew what to do with.

That’s a lie. I knew what to do with them: paint.

I’m going to describe the process, not in the order I did things, but in the order that I feel is the least to the most interesting.

Edge of Darkness

This game has 42 minis. 40 of them are “armies” (sets of identical units), 10 per player. I decided it would be simplest to paint those in the game’s player colors: white, red, green, purple.

Zenithal priming minis
Here are the Edge of Darkness minis just after zenithal priming. The 10 on the right will be painted red, so I used tan zenithal; the rest are gray zenithal.
Edge of Darkness - painted minis
To paint these minis, I just slopped contrast paints on them. The shades are: red = Contrast Blood Angels Red; green = Citadel Creed Camo; purple = Citadel Shyish Purple. The white pieces I just left with gray zenithal.
Edge of Darkness - round marker
I put a little extra effort into the round marker and the first-player marker. For the round marker, I applied a simple coat of black primer. I then did a heavy drybrushing with Vallejo Hammered Copper and a light drybrushing with Vallejo Polished Gold. The contrast between a black base and gold arm was bit much for me, so I painted the base in Harvest Brown.
Edge of Darkness - first player marker
I applied a coat of black primer for the first-player marker as well. I then did a heavy drybrushing with Vallejo Chainmail Silver and a light drybrushing with Vallejo Plate Silver.

Vindication

Vindication looks like a good game, though I haven’t played it yet. From a miniatures perspective, the game is disappointing in that the minis don’t really do anything. Only if you use an optional expansion module do they show up on the board.

From the design perspective, the minis look great:

Vindication minis unpainted 2

Vindication minis unpainted 1

As I discussed in my previous miniatures post, over the next year or so I anticipate using the Sundrop/pre-shading/sketch-style technique on the otherworldly minis of Etherfields and Tainted Grail. I chose to make the Vindication minis a test run of this approach. I painted them using the Sundrop technique with contrast paints, each mini with one bit (sometimes tiny) that was different from their main color.

I think the results came out fairly well:

Vindication painted minis - 2

Vindication painted minis - 1

I’m going to skip my usual practice of listing all the paints I used for these pictures. Instead, in a subsequent post I’m going to show Dwarf Brewers painted and labeled with all the Citadel Contrast Paints in my collection. I’ll only note there that I wish that Leviadon Blue (the mini with the yellow globe in the center) and Shyish Purple (circle with jagged spikes and silvery woman in the back) were not so dark that it’s hard to tell one color from the other.

I’m generally content with how these minis turned out. For comparison, Awaken Realms released a photo of the production line for Niamh, one of their Sundropped minis from Tainted Grail:

pic4912742

Awaken Realms has my respect for doing this good a job of mass-painting minis. However, I think I can do as well if not a little bit better on my own. For example, I can select the color of the contrast paint to better suit the miniature’s function or history in the game.

Volfyirion

This mini proved to be a challenge. As you can see from the photo, it had lots of “fiddly bits” and sections of the sculpture that were hard to reach with a paint brush:

Volfyiron - unpainted

Most of the other pictures I’ve seen of the Volfyirion miniature painted by other artists used a dark color palette to match the game’s artwork. I decided I wanted a fire dragon. That meant I’d be using mostly warm colors. So the first step was relatively easy: use an airbrush to apply a tan zenithal.

Next comes color choices and painting. I chose to stick with contrast paints where I could. I decided I wanted to accentuate the difference between the dragon’s top and underbelly by painting them two different colors, Citadel Blood Angels Red and Citadel Wyldwood. For fiery highlights I went with Candlelight Yellow and Orange Fire.

Spider claws are unusual for a dragon, much less a fire dragon, so I decided to portray them as exposed bone with Skeleton Horde. In Mysthea lore, the crystals the dragon crouches on are called Qoam, so I used the same color scheme as I had when I painted the Qoam crystals of the Mysthea miniatures: Vallejo Red with a wash of Citadel Shade Carroburg Crimson.

It was tricky getting around the nooks and crannies of the mini. Fortunately the brushes I had were good enough for the task, especially the smallest ones.

The result:

It looked pretty decent. However, I thought the contrast between the red top and the brown underbelly was too stark. I took a risk and lightened the underbelly with a drybrush of gold. The result was better than I hoped. Here’s how it looked after varnishing.

Speaking of varnishing…

The web reviews I saw on Citadel Contrast Paints said they did not adhere very well. My own experience confirm that statement. Even the mildest mini-on-plastic rubbing could cause the contrast paint to chip.

The sites recommended 3-4 coats of varnish. That sounded good, but I also found contradictory information on the web about how long I should each coat dry; a web search on the question tends to give links to varnishing boats. My spray can for Liquitex Satin Varnish either did not include drying time or the text was too small for me to find.

I compromised: One quick spray, rotate 90°, spray again; repeat two more times for 360° coverage. A half hour later, do the same thing but starting with a 45° offset so I was spraying on the diagonals. Repeat the whole process the next day.

So far, no chipping. We’ll see what happens.

What’s next

I’ve got a couple more miniature-painting posts in my mental queue, discussing some more tests I did.

Physically, I’m wrapping up painting for now and putting the airbrush and paints away. I anticipate I might paint more minis in October 2019, when Tainted Grail is tentatively scheduled to arrive.

11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica

My father is giving away one of his prize possessions: the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, published in 1911.

According to my father, this was known as the “scholars edition” because it was the last edition that could be used as a primary resource. For example, the article on penicillin was written by Alexander Fleming; the article on Communism was written by Leon Trotsky.

The taker would have to pay the postage if they wanted it shipped to them. That would be substantial since technically the 11th edition had 33 volumes, though I don’t know if my father has all the supplements. If a library wanted it, my father would consider paying for the shipping.

The volumes are not bound uniformly. My father assembled the collection over the course of years, and the books come from at least two different printings.

Any takers?

Sky: Children of the Light

thatgamecompany is known for making computer games for people who wouldn’t otherwise be interested in computer games. Sky: Children of the Light is their attempt at making a MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) game for people who would otherwise not be interested in MMOs. In my opinion, they did not succeed; if you’re not already a gamer with some experience and/or aren’t willing to face some bitter disappointments, you’ll find Sky a difficult game.

The rest of this review contains spoilers, so: SPOILER ALERT! Since the game is meant to be played over and over again, at most I’m only going to spoil the experience of the first run-through. Or maybe I’ll spoil the game by giving a critical review to what is may be a delightful MMO if I got over my own limitations. Once again: SPOILER ALERT!

Background

In the first thatgamecompany game I played, Flower, you play a breeze guiding a flower petal to gather more flower petals. It was delightfully non-competitive. You could revel in the beauty of the environment, blowing past flowers to make them bloom and collect their petals. For the most part, you were playing with the game and not against it.

Their follow-up game, Journey, had you making an epic journey through several worlds to get to a light on a distant mountain. It introduced player interaction: In the second world, you met another player who could accompany you on the trip. You could only communicate through simple beeps. Your behavior options were limited: you could help the other person progress, or you could ignore them and proceed solo. There were hazards to avoid in a couple of the worlds, but the worst that could happen is that you’d lose the ability to fly somewhat and you wouldn’t be able to get some of the achievements.

When you complete Journey, you can play the game again. The incentive (apart from achievements) is that each time you’d meet someone else. Their behaviors could make each run-through different: Would they help you? Could you help them? Would they go off to journey solo? It didn’t matter that much from a game-play perspective, since the game didn’t require much skill to give a sense of satisfaction and completion. There was a zen-like quality to the worlds and the journey that made replays rewarding even if you didn’t meet anyone else.

Sky is similar to Journey: You travel from world to world, heading towards a light in a distant mountain. Your key mode of transportation is based on your cape; as you travel, you collect items (in Sky these are the Children of the Light) to improve your cape and let you fly longer. The design of the worlds in Sky is very similar to the worlds of Journey: the desert world; the skiing world; the world where monsters attack you; the world of the tower; the struggle to reach the summit of the mountain.

Children of the Light

The differences between Sky and Journey begin with your cape. In Journey the cape was useful but not required; in Sky it’s almost essential. Therefore visiting the Children and collecting their Light is a key component of the game. You can’t even visit the final world in Sky without collecting at least 20 of them, and if you consult the hint guides they suggest collecting at least 40 or more because of the difficulty of that level. My own experience is that you’d want at least 50.

Collecting all that Light is important. As you might guess, some of the Children are easy to find. Some are in locations so obscure that even with a hint guide you might not be able to find them. And some are in locations that are difficult to reach unless you have very precise control of your character.

In Journey, controlling your avatar wasn’t difficult. In Sky, the difficulty of controlling your avatar is a complex function of environment, world, cape energy, and whether you’ve just been slammed by a creature (more on that below).

More than once I’ve tried to do some precision flying in an environment and just clip some surface. The avatar starts ping-ponging all over the place, zooming uncontrollably, only able to turn slowly. If you were in the room at the time, you’d hear me screaming at my iPhone: “Why are you going over there? I didn’t tell you go there! Why aren’t you turning when I’m telling you to turn? Go up! I’m pushing the up button! Why aren’t you going up? Why are you flying when I’m telling you to jump? Why are you jumping when I’m telling you to fly?”

It makes me glad my cat is almost deaf.

As you might have figured out from the paragraph above, right now Sky is only available for iOS, on iPhones and iPads. When iOS 13 is released later this year, it will be possible to use a PS4 controller with iOS games. Perhaps then I won’t experience the frustration of trying to do precision movements on a touchscreen.

Hostile environments

As I said above, Journey had creatures that could damage your flying cape, but that wasn’t important to the overall trip. Sky also has creatures that can attack you and steal your Light, and gathering Light is basically the goal of the game. If your avatar loses Light and therefore flying power, you might have to start the game again from the first world.

Unlike Journey, in Sky these creatures are in dark environments where the screen contrast is very poor, even when when I crank my iPhone’s contrast to maximum. It can be hard to see the creatures, places you can hide, even exits from the area you’re in. There are worlds where standing in water drains your Light away.

Once, I was knocked by a creature into a dark area, my flying gone. The pit was filled with water, surrounded by blobs of blackness. I watched my Light disappear. I didn’t know what to do. (There’s a Sky equivalent of a Hearthstone in World of Warcraft, but I didn’t know about that option at the time.) I splashed around desperately, but there was no escape. Finally my avatar “died.” I found myself in another world of darkness, though with stars in the night sky at least, until I finally figured out the direction I was supposed to go.

If you play a game like Dark Souls, this sort of thing is par for the course. It certainly doesn’t match the zen-like joy of Journey or Flower. It’s as if thatgamecompany was trying to appeal to both hard-core gamers and the audience for their other games.

Other players

In Journey, you could meet with at most one other player in a given world. In Sky, when you enter an area there can be up to five players initially, and up to eight total (there’s a way to teleport to the location of one of your friends).

In the first couple of minutes of Sky, you’re limited to the same level of communication with your fellow players as in Journey: beeps and sitting down. That rapidly expands as you encounter Spirits, also known as Emotes for their basic reward. A Spirit takes you on a small trip across the landscape, with varying degrees of difficulty depending on the world. At the end of the trip you receive a new gesture, pose, or sound effect for your avatar.

There are something like 36 Emotes in the game, so potentially you have access to a wide range of expressions. Often you’ll see a group of players standing around in a common area showing off the Emotes they’ve acquired to each other. This sort of “playing around” is certainly not possible in Journey!

For more direct communication, there are chat benches in all the vendor areas of the game and scattered throughout the rest of the worlds. If two players sit on the same bench, they can type text messages to one another.

Another annoyance: The “microphone” key is not available on Sky‘s keyboard, so you can’t use the iPhone’s dictation feature.

For my part, I only found someone willing to sit on the bench with me twice. The first time they typed in Japanese. I tried to apologize for not understanding them, but they promptly left. The second time I was seeking help to get through one of the monster-laden worlds; the other player expressed ignorance and left before I could say more.

The next level of social interaction is to become Friends with another player. This costs a Candle (more on currency below). This allows you to assign a name to that player. For the few couple of Friends I took the time to compose names for them. After that I just hit “Randomize” for a quick name, so most of my Friends have names like Ewotuka, Acoc, Oyes, and Isefa.

The game is easier when you travel with other players. When you’re close to another avatar, the cape energy passively regenerates. When you’re Friends with another player, you have the option for one of you to hold the other avatar’s hand and lead them, guaranteeing the energy regeneration. You can even form chains of up to eight avatars, each one clasping the hand of the next one. There are Children of the Light that are almost impossible to reach unless someone else is there to help you regenerate.

You can see an example of this in the (spoiler-laden) videos available in the Sky wiki: https://sky-children-of-the-light.fandom.com/wiki/Sky:_Children_of_the_Light_Wiki. In those videos, the player forms her own chain by playing Sky with four devices at once, regenerating cape energy rapidly.

All of this sounds wonderful, but there’s a communications gap: Without text and with the range of Emotes available, you can’t tell if someone wants to accomplish a game task or just wants to play around.

Here’s an example: Someone offered to become Friends with me. I accepted. They offered to clasp my avatar’s hand, and again I accepted. They promptly dragged me into the initial area of the most monster-laden world. Then they go of my hand. I interpreted this as they were asking for a guide to get through it. I knew something about the region. As I alluded above, I’m crappy at dodging the monsters and precision flying so I couldn’t give them a complete tour, but I could offer something. I offered my hand, they accepted, and I took them deeper into the world.

It wasn’t until we were deep into that world that it became clear that the other player wasn’t looking for a guide, they had been looking to play with Emotes or something and had picked the most dangerous world at random. In a dark area, they activated a spell that made their avatar glow. This is a purely cosmetic effect; it does not illuminate your surroundings in any way. But in a dark zone, it made my iPhone’s screen wash out with the bright glow. I could no longer see the dark terrain and the dark exit to get out of the dark zone. There was only the glow of my companion.

I didn’t want to abandon them in a zone they didn’t understand, but I was stuck fumbling around blind. I tried to initiate a text communication with them, but they refused. (I later learned that Japanese speakers are often embarrassed that they can’t communicate with English speakers.) I continued to try to find a way out, but finally we met up with someone else who knew what they were doing and I joined them, leaving my first companion behind.

That’s just one incident, and I’ve experienced others. The bottom line is that there’s no way to express ideas like “Please, I need some help” or “Please, let me help you” or “I just want to dance” directly. You only have guesses based on behavior. In the incident I described above, I tried to be helpful only to come across as rude in the end.

Of course there are ways around this, but they’re the standard MMO tricks. In this spoiler-laden video (https://youtu.be/Ah_-W3XKEfY, recorded just last night as I type this) you can see a Sky expert coordinating with her friends using some communications program; I can’t tell if it’s Twitch, Discord, or something else.

Eventually this will all shake down. Some standards will emerge and communities will form. Perhaps there will be default communication channels for each language. Something like this happened with World of Warcraft, except that WoW provided open text communication from the beginning, and servers were already segregated by geographic region. Maybe a sort of pidgin will evolve based on the available emotes.

This is far from the contemplative joy and basic companionship in Journey.

Currency

There are five currencies in Sky: Candles, Hearts, Ascended Candles, Seasonal Tokens, and Seasonal Candles. The last two are for cosmetic improvements only, so I’m not going to discuss them further.

Candles are the basic currency. Once you’ve interacted with an Emote and gained a new expression, that Emote becomes a vendor in a world’s social area. Candles will let you purchase some upgrades for your avatar.

Candles are also the basis for social interactions between avatars. When you make an offer to become someone’s Friend, the cost is one Candle. To upgrade interactions with that Friend costs more Candles. To be able to text-chat with that Friend costs yet more candles.

Candles can be forged by collecting wax from other candles in the environment (something I do in real life) and from other sources. It’s possible to spend time in the game each day grinding for wax. According to one of the videos I linked above, you’d get about 15 Candles for two hours of work each day.

Here’s where the real-world money comes in the free-to-play app: You can also pay for Candles. For example, for $20 you can get 60 Candles (actually, it’s presently 72 for $20 as a new-game promotion). That lets you make Friends freely and purchase quite a few minor improvements for your character.

You may ask, given that my critical review of the game thus far, did I resist paying for Candles? I’ve already confessed that I’m a former WoW pet collector, so you can guess the answer.

If you want serious cosmetic improvements to your avatar (hairstyles, masks, trousers, capes), you have to move to the next level of currency: Hearts. These costume items have no effect on the game. They’re a digital good, like WoW pets, that solely affect the appearance of your character. The cost of new trousers might be 5 Hearts; the price for a really nifty cape might be 30 Hearts.

Hearts can’t be directly purchased through real-world cash. You can purchase them from the Emotes/vendors at a price of three Candles for one Heart… once for each vendor. Since not every vendor sells a Heart, you might get 35 Hearts this way (at a total cost of 105 Candles, which takes us back to spending real-world money for Candles).

You can also get Hearts from Friends. If you send a Friend a bundle of three Candles, they’ll receive a Heart. So the way to get Hearts is to give them. You send Hearts to your Friends and hope they’ll reciprocate. Of course, there’s no guarantee that this “investment” of Candles will pay back in Hearts, especially if you haven’t paid Candles to initiate a text chat with that Friend to arrange any deals. You send out bundles of Candles and hope for the best.

This leads to another my criticisms of Sky, in the choice of their iconography. Suppose a newcomer to the game meets me. I could use someone else when visiting a difficult world, so I offer to be Friends with them. They accept, we travel around, I show them where some hidden Lights are. Later, I send them a Heart to see if we can work out an exchange.

Is this how they perceive it? There’s nothing obvious in the game about the informal Heart economy. You can read about it in fan-based web pages (that’s how I learned it) and it may be implied in the optional game tutorials (I haven’t checked).

In other words, a newcomer adventures with a stranger for a brief while and later they get a Heart from them. It might be perceived as a creepy gesture. I wish the Heart wasn’t a “heart” but some other icon without the same connotations.

That leaves Ascended Candles. They are a reward for going through the final world successfully; if you recall above, that’s the one that requires at least 20 Light to enter. The more Light you enter that zone with, the greater the potential reward… if you can manage a challenging environment.

The Ascended Candles can be used to purchase “permanent” cape upgrades from the Emotes/vendors; most vendors offer one such upgrade and a couple offer two. Each upgrade means that when you start the game again, your cape starts out with additional Light. Overall, this gives Sky some of the visceral feel of Diablo: You go through the same adventure each time, but you get a bit more powerful and maybe you can handle some tougher challenges.

Ascended Candles can also unlock the most potent Friend option: To be able to Warp to a Friend’s location within the same game world. Since Ascended Candles are so hard to get, I’d only use this option on someone I really, really trusted.

Unskippable Cutscenes

I wanted to mention the unskippable cutscenes in this review. Have I talked about the unskippable cutscenes yet? There are unskippable cutscenes. They’re annoying after the first playthrough, especially if you’re in the middle of a complicated maneuver that gets interrupted by an unskippable cutscene. There are skippable cutscenes, but not enough compared to the unskippable cutscenes. If you think this paragraph is wordy and annoying, just wait until you have to deal with the unskippable cutscenes.

Conclusions

I investigated Sky because a friend of mine was a big fan of Flower and Journey. They were looking forward to another game from thatgamecompany that echoed the meditative qualities of those two. I offered to test the waters for them and walk them through Sky when they were ready, as I had when I introduced them to Journey.

Sky: Children of the Light is not the game I think they were expecting. When my friend finally has the chance to sit down and play the game with me, I think they will be disappointed. It’s not likely that they’ll read this review (my blog is so obscure that not even my good friends read it), but I’ll keep the critical tone out of my voice and let them make their own judgements.

I’m neutral on the monetization of the game. You can play Sky without spending a dime. You can forge your way through the game solo, get the 20 Light to be pounded in the final zone, emerge to see the game’s ending, then never play again; I think you’d have more fun doing basically the same thing in Journey. You can also make Friends and gain Hearts by grinding for Candle wax, but you’ll spend time instead of money.

I think my WoW friends would perceive Sky as a very light MMO. I can easily see some of them playing Sky with one hand as they tank Ragnaros with the other… if they cared to play Sky at all. There’s definitely a market for people who like light MMOs; Second Life is one example. But I believe there’s more to do in Second Life than there is to do in Sky.

Sky is too much of an MMO to be like Flower and Journey. I’m turned off by its occasionally frustrating controls, difficult environments, and player communication issues. I hoped for better from thatgamecompany.

Sundrop, tan zenithal, and contrast paints

The new incentive

This post continues a saga I began in an earlier post on the hobby of painting miniature figures. In that post, I described how I managed to paint the minis in the game Mysthea to a satisfactory level.

At the end of that post, I looked forward to painting the dragon Volfyirion and the miniatures in Icaion, both from Tabula Games. I’ll go over my efforts to paint Volfyirion in another mini-painting post.

Since I wrote that post, a new element entered the picture: I pre-ordered two more games with miniature figures: Tainted Grail and Etherfields, both published by Awaken Realms. I knew from Icaion’s Kickstarter campaign that painting those minis would test the limits of my skill. Well, with all due respect to the designers at Tabula Games, the mini designers at Awaken Realms are more ambitious. If you click on the Tainted Grail and Etherfields links, you’ll see how elaborate their minis are.

The Awaken Realms minis are beyond my skill to paint, even with the watercolor-like approximations I applied to the Mysthea minis. With only one working eye and trembling fingers, I did not think I could improve my ability above what it currently is.

However, an idea presented itself. The Awaken Realms Kickstater pages offered to paint the minis for you, using a technique they called Sundrop; Aella13 calls this pre-shading and Vince Venturella calls it sketch style. It’s a simple method: zenithal prime a mini, apply a wash for contrast, and you’re done. In fact, it’s what I did for the armies in Mysthea:

Golems - wash - front
These Golem minis look a bit cartoonish to suit my taste for the more elaborate Awaken Realms minis, but that was a deliberate choice on my part. I wanted to give the Golems the same colors as the player colors used in Mysthea and were the colors of the minis’ bases. There are no “armies” (a collection of identical units) in Tainted Grail and Etherfields. The armies in Icaion already come in the players’ colors (though I may choose to apply a wash once I see them).

Caerulas - filed and painted
I can focus on the wash colors that I feel suit the character of each individual mini. The photo above shows the result when I “sundropped” Mysthea’s Caerulus mini with Agrax Earthshade wash, with just a bit of highlighting for the eyes. That was the more “mature” color scheme I was looking for.

Tan zenithal

As I went over in my previous mini post, conventional zenithal priming has an overall coat of black primer, an angled coat of light gray, and and overhead spray of white.

However, I learned that when you plan to paint in warm or autumnal colors (e.g., brown, red, orange, yellow) it’s best if you’re painting over another warm color. Since I planned to paint Volfyirion as a fire dragon, I explored a different zenithal scheme.

Unpainted dwarf
An unpainted Dwarf Brewer, straight out of the package.

Dwarf - base brown
Using an airbrush, apply an overall coat of brown primer.

Dwarf with tan zenithal
Spray tan primer in a 45-degree angle around the figure.

Dwarf with white overhead
Highlight with white primer sprayed from above the mini.

Let’s compare the “gray zenithal” with the “tan zenithal”:

Two Zenithals

To test the assertion that warm colors would look better over a brown-ish base, I airbrushed both minis with a 1:1 mix of Vallejo Air Red with Vallejo Glaze Medium. I chose this mix because I wanted the red to be translucent enough that it wouldn’t completely override the zenithal effect. I used glaze medium instead of water because I didn’t want to thin the Vallejo Air paint any further, since it was already thinned for airbrushing.

Two zenithals with red glaze

To my eye, the mini on the right has the more vibrant color. The color theorists are right!

Given this result, I knew I was going to run more tests using autumnal colors. I applied a tan zenithal to all my remaining Dwarf Brewer minis. I then applied a red glaze to a couple more to see effect of washes on top of the glaze.

Two washed dwarves
The Dwarf on the left was washed with Citadel Shade Casandora Yellow. The one on the right was washed with Citadel Shade Agrax Earthshade. Note that I left the beer barrels unwashed so I could see the color shift.

Sundrop / pre-shading / sketch style

The tests I did with the red glaze were in anticipation of techniques I’d use to paint Volfyirion (in a later post I describe why I dropped this approach). But although wash-over-glaze is a perfectly valid technique, I wanted to see what I could do with just the Sundrop approach: wash-over-zenithal. I tested with more tan-zenithaled Dwarf Brewers.

Dwarf - shade Agrax Earthshade
Agrax Earthshade over tan zenithal.

Dwarf - shade Reikland Fleshshade
Reikland Fleshshade over tan zenithal.

Dwarf with Drakenhoof Nighshade
Drakenhof Nighshade over tan zenithal. Notes: Blue over tan zenithal was not the best choice, but I wanted to see the result of a blue shade; again, I omitted the beer barrel to see the color shift; my iPhone has difficulty getting the darker shades in focus.

I also have some pictures of the same approach with non-Dwarf non-Brewers.

Green wash over zenithal
Citadel Shade Biel-Tan Green over gray zenithal.

zenithal - black coat
Citadel Shade Nuln Oil over gray zenithal.

I was content with the results I got. I knew I could Sundrop minis fairly quickly, not get bogged down in details, and get the gray off the table. If you’re wondering what that last phrase means, compare this image with unpainted minis to this image with painted ones.

So all was well and I had a plan. Until…

Contrast paints

If you paint miniature figures, it’s hard to escape the hype surrounding Citadel Contrast Paints. If you don’t paint minis, the quick summary is that, for newcomers to the hobby, they can accomplish a single coat what would otherwise involve a basecoat+wash+drybrush.

They’re supposed to be easy to use: just slop the paint over white primer and you’re done. For the inexperienced, they’re supposed to give the visceral thrill of quickly painting a mini. The experienced have access to more powerful techniques (blending, layering, etc.) and don’t have much use for them.

I saw the videos and I was intrigued. A product made for n00bs? Well, I are one.

Finally, a friend of mine made a recommendation that I give contrast paints a try. I succumbed to peer pressure and tried a few to see how well they worked. Was it all hype?

To my pleasant surprise, the answer was no. All of the following examples are contrast paints over tan zenithal.

Dwarf - contrast Blood Angel Red
Blood Angels Red

Dwarf - contrast Aggaros Dunes
Aggaros Dunes

Dwarf - contrast Snakebite Leather
Snakebite Leather

Dwarf - contrast Wyldwood
Wyldwood

It may not be clear from the pictures, but the contrast paints’ colors are richer than those of the washes. The recesses into which the paint flowed are darker than with the wash, so the raised areas are highlighted more. This definitely doesn’t come across in the photos: The darker contrast paint colors have a sheen to them that makes the surfaces seem almost metallic; the Wyldwood mini looks like it was made of bronze.

That last point raises the issue of how to varnish a contrast-painted mini while retaining that sheen. Do I use a varnish with a satin finish or one with a gloss finish? I’m sure you’ve guessed the answer: I’ll have to test on more Dwarf Brewers.

I’ve ordered some more contrast paints, and Dwarf Brewers to test them on (of course!). There’ll be a follow-up post with more contrast paint examples. If you’d like to get an idea right now, check out this page.

This doesn’t mean I reject using washes over zenithal for my future Sundrop efforts. Depending on the figure, I might want a less intense color; e.g., a mist creature or an undead. I’ll decide on a figure-by-figure basis as the games arrive.

Going back to Etherfields, I found a video of someone painting Etherfields miniatures. Synopsis: The painter (who is far more experienced than I am) spent a long time painting one of the figures in detail (the mini on the right in the video’s preview image). After that, he settles for using contrast paints to Sundrop the minis, with some minor highlights on the larger ones (the mini on the left in the preview); that’s pretty much what I plan to do.

References

Warning: This post contains self-indulgent meanderings on the passage of time. If you young’uns can’t handle that, skip this post and get off of my lawn.

A few weeks ago I was in the lunch room of Nevis Labs. I was the oldest one there. The rest were summer students about 20 years old. The topic had shifted to assigning everyone there an alignment according to the D&D system. I was assigned “Chaotic/Good”, which I accepted.

I’ve had problems with the D&D system that were older than the students there, and its alignment system is one of those problems. In an attempt to be satirical, I said, “Okay, now we can figure out which of us is Samantha, or Carrie, or Miranda, or…”

Dead silence. They looked at me blankly. They had no idea what I was talking about.

I muttered something about Sex and the City and retreated into my private thoughts. Three feelings washed over me:

  1. I felt the usual disappointment of a geek who made a reference that no one else got.
  2. I felt old. I’m almost three times the age of the summer students this year. In a couple more years, I will be more than three times the age of summer students at Nevis. Will I even be able to understand what those kids are saying as time goes on?

    After all, it’s normal for most culture to be ephemeral. A couple of personal examples come to mind:

    • Back at Cornell in 1978, I had a friend named Adams Douglas; his mother wanted to remind him that he was a great-to-the-nth descendant of John Quincy Adams. You can try to do a web search on Adams Douglas, but he’s hard to find because you’ll get thousands of results about some other guy.

      Adams was the son of the actors Jan Sterling and Paul Douglas. They were household names in the early 50s. But by the time I knew Adams, they were already forgotten, footnotes in cinematic history.

      Adams himself has become a footnote. He passed away in 2003, a year before his mother did.

    • Also in 1978, I happened to read a play called Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines. It was written in 1901, and assumed that the audience would be familiar with a song of the same title that was written in 1868.

      The song had been popular for 33 years at that point. It probably felt reasonable to assume that it would stand the test of time. It didn’t. When I read the play 77 years later, I had no idea that the song existed. It’s now 41 years after that, and despite an opera written in 1975, I’m probably one of the few people left who still remembers that the song/play/opera ever existed.

  3. Triumph! The geeks had won after all!

    Let’s look at some dates. Sex and the City was broadcast from 1998 to 2004. It’s only 15 years later, and it’s beginning to fall off the “cliff of relevance”. If you consider the Nevis summer students as a representative sample (and there are many arguments that would suggest they are not), then if you’re 20 years old or less you will never have heard of it.

    Dungeons & Dragons was first published in 1974. It’s 45 years later, so it’s three times older than Sex in the City. (Note the similar age ratio of me to the summer students.) Some of the students took the superior-intellectual stance and claimed they had never played D&D, but they all knew what it was and knew about the alignment system.

    I got my copy of D&D in 1975. (I still have it; it’s probably worth some money.) I remember parental disapproval, the claims that D&D caused teenagers to commit suicide, the claims that it was Satanic (BADD). All of that has pretty much fallen off the cliff of relevance (though my father still doesn’t “get it”).

    What’s survived? The D&D alignment system, obviously. So have half-Orc Barbarians, Lawful/Good Paladins, dual-class Sorceror/Rogues, Dwarven warriors, Elvish wizards, Mages’ towers, Lich pits, Demogorgons, Beholders, platinum pieces, Bags of Holding, armor classes, experience points… and of course, dungeons filled with treasure and dragons filled with menace.

    They’ve not only survived, but thrived. Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha are fading. The geek dream lives on!

Obviously, I’m glossing over a lot of cultural complexity in order to make a mildly amusing point. Sex in the City appealed to thirty-something women looking for relationships; that’s not likely to have much appeal to 20-year-old science students. For my part, I may have seen no more than three episodes out of the 94 made, though I do know about SitC‘s four-fold path.

Also, the “cultural competition” associated with SitC is different than that of D&D. There are lots of relationship comedies out there, and the genre is continually reinventing itself as new issues come to light. For example, did SitC ever explore the difficulties of the transgendered to find relationships? (I have no idea.) I know such series exist… but they’re not SitC.

On the other hand, D&D is a tabletop role-playing game fixed in a general fantasy setting. The existence of other media in the same setting (the Lord of the Rings movies, the Game of Thrones TV series) tends to increase interest in D&D, not push it off the cliff of relevance. Even the existence of competing fantasy role-playing games such as Pathfinder and Rolemaster tends to reinforce the ideas and memes associated with D&D even if their players have never read the D&D rules.

Does this mean D&D will pass the “test of time”? By my own arbitrary definition, we won’t know until everyone who was alive in 1974 has passed away. If they’re still talking about hit points and character stats by then, then the geeks can score permanent victory. By that definition, I will never live long enough to be certain.

In the meantime, I can stave off some of the pang of aging into cultural irrelevance by shouting out with glee: “Stuff it, Carrie! And suck it, Captain Jinks!”