Category: Derision

Setec Astronomy

I’ve played Connections like four times now, which of course you can understand means that I am ready to issue a wise verdict from the top of Game Design Mountain. The verdict is: this game’s interface and its incentives are at odds, which irritates me, but there are simple changes that could make it more fun and less frustrating without changing its difficulty.

I became aware of the game to begin with because part of the NYT Games team’s marketing strategy is working. Finishing a given day’s puzzle yields one of those little block patterns of color-square emoji, the ones that look like 🟩🟨🟦🟪 instead of 🟩🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️. It’s enough like Wordle to make one curious, but different enough to be distinguishable even if you have reduced color vision, and it takes good advantage of their ownership of Wordle’s IP and its most potent promotional idea. It’s also a big bet on the long-term appeal and viability of the game, because you only get so many uses of the shareable grid before it loses its brand value. But actually playing Connections has given me a new appreciation for the elegance of Wordle’s quality-of-life support, because Connections does not support life.

In one abstract rendering, both games could be reduced to “solve a puzzle in X educated guesses from a fixed domain of discourse.” Per Wyna Liu, the game’s editor and credited creator, the placement of the initial squares in its grid is deliberate, a choice designed to lead you down false paths before you sort out the right ones. The editors clearly enjoy coming up with grid items that fit more than one potential answer, and in my experience it’s easy to come up with multiple groups that are conceptually closer than the ones they chose (DOG and HEEL belong with JERK and SNAKE instead of FETCH and SIT? Really?).

That means that the actual game pitch is “solve for all four answers at once, and don’t get greedy by jumping to conclusions!” Which, fine, whatever, there’s nothing wrong with that in isolation. Liu herself, in the brief interview above, expresses support for the “pen and paper method” of working on solutions. Which is again fine, if we were talking about a game that the NYT printed on paper. But it’s not! It’s a web app! If the editor believes that the right approach is to sort out all four groups and check them through before submitting your answer, why doesn’t the user interface allow you to do so?

I’m not an interaction designer, but even I can come up with a simple solution here: make the tiles draggable, and allow the player to move them all into a solution grid before hitting submit. Instead, the only ways to move the tiles the developers have offered are a random shuffle button or a jump to a conclusion. The tiles shift themselves to the top available row when you make a successful guess, which is telling the player “go ahead and take your shot, I’ll reward you by reducing the complexity of the board if you do.” But that’s a contradiction of the editorial strategy laid out above. If you do fall for the temptation of the UI, your wrong guess might yield a cue like “one away!” that is of very limited utility, and that then vanishes, leaving only a record of your punishment. The effect is more like a taunt of “skill issue lol” than an encouragement. That’s reinforced by sharing-based marketing gimmick and the way many players use the pen-and-paper attack to solve the puzzle with no record of wrong guesses, so any mistakes at all come across as failure rather than tactical work.

This is what I mean about Wordle’s comparative elegance. Wordle gives you more guesses, more information per guess, and a persistent record of those guesses in both the solution rows and its keyboard. That means you can walk away from the game and retain your context when you come back to it later. Perfect solutions are possible only through a rare stroke of luck (or cheating), so if you’re competing against your in-laws on a group chat, it’s easy to evoke a sense of mingled competition and camaraderie. Even if sometimes everyone gets grumpy about HOMER or __GHT, there’s a real difference in the play experience between “ah, that was my fault” and “oh fuck off, you smug jerk/dog/heel/snake.”

A Timely Varsity Blues Podcast

Kids dressed up like the characters from Varsity Blues. It's cute

Apparently the thing I do here now is, once a year, post a podcast I made with friends about a movie that already came out. This time I made one with my friend Anne! It’s about the non-classic 90s Teen Film Varsity Blues, for no clear reason that either of us could recall. Despite our claims at the beginning, we DID think of a belated title for it: Reel 90s Kids.

Because we remember.

I’m not going to link to the site we discuss for the latter half of the podcast because I don’t want to make anyone’s life sadder, including yours. I have faith in your ability to find it if you want to. Please don’t. Special thanks to small genius Aidan James for our outro music!

Mom’s boyfriend is named Jerry

And he’s a museum curator, and his house (two authentic log cabins that he took apart and reconstructed with a new stone building between them) is filled with historical artifacts and ephemera. It is NOT exactly filled with light, because log cabins are not known for their vast expanses of window, but I tried to get a picture of one such artifact anyway.

The A-Bomb And You

It’s a framed flier full of survival tips for when you are struck by an atomic bomb, obviously from the 50s or 60s. These are unbelievably helpful tips; what’s really tragic is that they were kept secret.

Four Survival Secrets

Allow me to transcribe:

  1. Try to get shielded. Get down in a basement if there is one. Caught in the open, take shelter alongside a building or in a ditch or gutter.
  2. Drop flat on ground or floor. Flatten out at base of wall or bottom of bank.
  3. Bury your face in your arms. Hide eyes in crook of elbow. That will protect face from burns, flying objects, temporary blindness.
  4. Don’t rush outside right after a bombing. Wait a few minutes after an air burst, at least an hour if the bomb explodes on the ground, to let the radiation die down.

I can’t figure out which words to emphasize for amazingness. Is it the admonition about “temporary blindness?” The advice to people caught in the open under a nuclear weapon, which is to go flop in a ditch for convenient body-collection? The idea that you must wait at least an hour for radiation to die down?

Anyway, the best part is the name of the establishment that brought this important, life-saving information to you, dear reader.

Grimm Funeral Home

It’s actually “Twitters Brendan”

When I was a kid I had asthma. Growing up largely fixed that, but I still got attacks when I went running in cold weather; since running is the only exercise I enjoy or have ever been good at, I got into the habit of slacking off as the weather got colder. In late fall, for many years, I’d slip into a comfortable lethargy, stop caring about what I ate or how much I moved, and gain a bunch of weight that I’d then try to work off in the spring.

After I started recognizing this pattern I wanted to change it. Because the only motivation I understand is self-mockery on the Internet, last September I made a new Twitter account, WinterBrendan. I’d post as him when I caught myself in moments of sloth, gluttony and self-loathing. He hasn’t actually written that much, which is a good thing! It kind of worked, and I ate a lot better and worked out more (aided by the fact that I figured out how to run without asthma, which deserves its own post).

But WinterBrendan was only the beginning.

Within two weeks of his appearance, SOMEONE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED created SpringBrendan, which is the worst thing that has ever happened. SpringBrendan is a machine gun of incredibly lewd jokes, which, well, fine, except all those jokes have my face on them and people instinctively believe I am writing them. The worst part is that he’s fucking hilarious. The only thing worse than people scolding you for coming up with horrible things is people praising you for coming up with horrible things when you did not, and indeed could not.

There are apparently people who still don’t believe I don’t write SpringBrendan. Look! Here! I AM NOT SPRINGBRENDAN. YOU CAN TELL BECAUSE HE IS FUNNY, AND LIKES HIMSELF.

Unfortunately everyone else likes him too. Around the time this was going on, I realized I was coming up on my ten thousandth tweet. Because my friends (and their friends, and total strangers) seemed to enjoy seeing my face plastered on any old garbage, I took a grumpy few hours and wrote my first Twitter client, RealBrendan. It was pretty simple: a text box that hooked up to my actual account and posted whatever you typed. My 9,999th tweet was a link to it, and my 10,000th was “Go.” Then I went to lunch with a friend.

When I got back I was in Twitter jail.

As soon as people realized it was legit, they had unleashed a hideous torrent of raw, anonymous Internet. I once thought of my followers as a carefully curated selection of clever, thoughtful people with taste; now I know better. RealBrendan only went silent when it hit the ceiling for allowable-tweets-per-hour, which turns out to be 128. I got a lot of texts along the lines of “are you okay???” and “WHAT ARE DOING, TURN OFF,” and one person even figured out how to send DMs as me. Exciting! (If you authorize the Exquisite Tweets app, you can read a complete archive of the horror.)

I revoked the app and was allowed back on Twitter the following morning. I did feel a certain sick fascination with what had happened the day before, so I tinkered with the machinery so that it would maintain a queue and post at a more reasonable rate, then hooked it up to its own new account. Once people figured out there was no more immediate gratification, the torrent dropped to a trickle, but now there’s this kind of anonymous group-fiction thing going and it’s kind of fun.

Because ideas are unkillable, there are other accounts as well, and once again I DO NOT CONTROL ANY OF THEM. Summer called them Brendan-shards, which prompted me to start thinking of them as my Horcruxes, because it would be awfully hard to track them all down and also each one represents a horrific murder. They are GrampaBrendan, JoelBrendan and BrendansMcdald, and I strongly encourage you not to follow any them. Or the other ones. Or the actual BrendanAdkins, really.

Please RT.

Neuromancer, Page 169

“This ain’t bore and inject, it’s more like we interface with the ice so slow, the ice doesn’t feel it. The face kinda sleazes up to the target and mutates, so it gets to be exactly like the ice fabric. Then we lock on and the main programs cut in, start talking circles ’round the logics in the ice. We go Siamese twin on ’em before they even get restless.” The Flatline laughed.

—Wiliam Gibson describes my dating style

The warning “does not relate to an imminent or specific threat.”

Confirmation bias at work

It’s nice to finally see a little backlash to TSA securititis coming from inside the airline industry. If the sheer annoyance of half a billion people couldn’t change the way Security Theater is conducted, maybe pissy pilots and CEOs will.

This makes it seem like I’m very clever and quick on IM but actually it was Twitter

Rachel: HOW CAN YOU DENY BLOG COMMENTS when I must tell you Lev Grossman‘s book teaches children that being an amoral shit = magic?
Rachel: I mean I know I disallow blog comments but DO WANT I WANT, NOT WHAT I DO
Brendan: You give me warm feelings right in the confirmation bias. Blog comments are one of the few things worse than Lev Grossman.
Rachel: Oh come now, I think we can all agree that Dick Cheney’s career is marginally worse than Lev Grossman!
Brendan: That’s still only two things.

I hate Lev Grossman

What’s that? Lev Grossman wrote a vacuous cover article for Time? I am taken aback! The Stranger (and its sister publication here, the Mercury) grate on me with their preciousness from time to time, but I admire the execution of Noah Kalina’s mirror-parody. It would have fit right into Modern Humor Authority, and I don’t think I’ve ever said that before about something that actually showed up in print.

If none of the preceding makes sense to you, you can pretty much reduce this entire post to its title.