Review: Leaving Mundania

“Leaving Mundania “

by Lizzie Stark

A nonfiction story about the crazy folks who dress up like characters from fiction and battle each other. Why do we participate in something so outlandish? What do people get out of this weird thing called larp? Lizzie wanted to know, and this book is the story of her finding out.


As an experienced larper why would I read a book about larping? Well, it is one of the only ‘mainstream’ books about larp. So choices are rather limited. But for someone who has been out of larping for a while, it was a wonderful return to a hobby and a passion. For many of the same reasons I started my Pintrest account and started shifting my twitter feed to notable people in larp, actually.

Reading “Leaving Mundania” I felt a powerful connection to the people interviewed. The kinds of emotional hurdles and challenges facing players in a sub sub culture invoked that feeling of connection. Hearing about their backgrounds and struggles, but the love they share for their experiences together re kindled something in me. It makes me long for a return. That passion and interest helps tamp down the anxiety associated with meeting new people.

If you’ve never heard about larp before there is a great amount of content in this book. You can go with the author on the journey of discovery. She starts with the assumption that outsiders usually have, that players in larps are lacking something and are strange for playing. By exploring and participating she finds that instead of lacking something, players are gaining something the world lacks. A personal connection, a deeper meaning, a relief of stress.

Experience players should also read the book. Particularly if your are tired of a regular larp routine. Sick of doing the same things? Stressed from the usual groups drama? Well there are other kinds of larps out there. There are interesting things going on out there in the world of larp, and it is becoming a ‘World of Larp’. There are new genres and new games to play, new thoughts and concepts. If you are tired of combat larp (or getting older) try a Con Larp. Try something that explores emotional concepts and values.

For me Leaving Mundania is going to become a touchstone for when I lose my spirit. This book explains why we larp, and reminds me of my emotional connections to larp. It will remind me that there are other kinds of larp to try, and wonderful things to embrace. Larp has been around since the 70’s and 80’s, but we’re just getting started. I feel like I am just getting started after 16 years.

Feel free to Tweet me about why you larp. Or Comment on the Google Plus feed for this post. Freind (or noise) me at Ello.co/larp.

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Gunpoint

The technoir tale of Gunpoint is amazing.  The game itself reminds me of the technology, film noir crossover of Automata by Penny Arcade.  It takes about 3 hours to play through.  Quick to learn and fast paced.  You’ll be rewiring lights, and doors in no time flat playing as Richard Conway Professional Spy, Amateur Electrician, Weaponised Jerk.  You can prepare detailed plans of cause and effect tweaked to your hearts content.  Inevitably there are two results.

1.) Success.  The result of that perfect plan makes you feel amazing!  It worked!  Triggering the over head light caused the guard to click the light switch shocking his nearby friend into submission!  All without being seen?!  It feels amazing.

2.) Spectacular failure resulting in your death.  After an almost well timed jump Conway lands at the feet of the guard you were aiming at.  The guard unceremoniously shoots your character dead.  You spend the next two minutes laughing and then try it again.  It still feels amazing!

The mission setups are humorous and worth reading.  A little taste of interactive fiction thrown in for good measure.  Yes the plot is weird, twisty and in the end…  Well let’s not spoil anything.  But it’s quick, and funny and well worth the time.  It’s tempting to spend some time with the level editor, but after playing straight through, it’s time for a break.

"The Lean Startup" vs Spaghetti Sauce

Our investors suggested I read “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries.  http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=thzopr-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=0307887898

I’m glad they did.  The book is well written and filled with examples from either the authors own experience or companies operating under similar circumstances.  All suggestions came from practical experience and are immediately relevant to my current experience as a start-up.  If you’re starting a company, or running a project with vaguely defined goals, it will be relevant to you too.

Overall this book is really about applying the scientific process to business; specifically the product development cycle.  This book helps you understand what to measure and why.  Although the focus of the book is mostly on new businesses the process presented could be used by project managers to create small scope projects in existing organizations…  Assuming they can get autonomy.  As my Project Management professor said “Get permission in writing.”

In a way Malcolm Gladwell: Choice, Happiness and Spaghetti Sauce is a better argument for a lean startup in established organizations then the book Lean Startup is.  There are very similar themes running through this book and the presentation.  Gladwell’s discussion of large companies finding the perfect products through metrics driven iteration might sell the strategy, while The Lean Startup elaborates on the specific tactics which might otherwise scare an established corporate machine.

If you’re an entrepreneur starting a new venture, of just about any kind, giving The Lean Startup a read will get you started off on the right foot.  Your scope will shrink, your costs will decrease, and your chance of success will increase if you take his lessons to heart because you will realize that bloated scope, high costs and high risk aren’t necessary for making big changes in today’s world.  Iterative design fits in very well with the work of paper prototyping, and right before (and during for best results) all the marketing that needs to happen.  But really Lean Startup is a methodology for how to behave as a company in the modern world.

Dungeon Keeper II

by Jeremy Springfield

Instead of discussing new and upcoming titles which have successful kick-starters, this week I want to use my long post to discuss on older title. Dungeon Keeper II is an oft overlooked classic of the RTS Genre and one of my all time favorite games.  One could imagine a parallel track of RTS designs based on the ideas expressed in DKII.  Alas, the world never saw such ideas.  Glimpse this alternate reality below the jump!




Although released in 1996 the game works fairly well.  Most hardware in 2012 can run this game with ease.  Ahead of it’s time graphically, it’s definitely behind the times at the moment.  You will see graphic glitches during play.  Pay them no head, as even a weak laptop should play this game fairly 
easily.  Fear not, for your game will not crash…  It just might look a little funky every now and then.

The plot is fairly straightforward. Evil is trying to take over the land. The hereos fight the evil. However, the player assumes the role of the Dungeon Keeper, and expands an ever growing dungeon to house an ever growing horde of minions.  Use them to crush the hero’s of the land and capture portal gems.  What do these gems do?  They open portals.  Who cares why, the game is fun!

Radically different than modern RTS games, the controls will be completely unfamiliar to fans of modern RTS games, but it won’t be a challenge to pick them up (it’s mostly mouse and a couple number keys later on).  Many common tropes and conventions of the RTS genre have been turned on their head.  There is no human opponent and this is NOT an eSport.  A bit more like The Sims, but evil, you really play in a sandbox.  Do not expect intense head to head competition.  Instead expect to set up your dungeon to your hearts content.  The game is rarely that hard, rather, its more of a puzzle to use the resources you have to accomplish the task.

In addition to the main quest/storyline the game offers free play modes and some side games.  The side games must be unlocked by finding magic items during gameplay. Although I play through the main missions on a yearly basis, the free play modes are pretty interesting as well.  You can build your dream dungeon fiddling endlessly with the perfect combos and layouts. Dungeons can be built with peril or without.

Using the standard ‘build a building’/’Create a unit’ RTS mechanic, at first gameplay seem’s straightforward.  In most RTS games this occurs in a graphic space create to look like the out of doors.  This game. however, makes you take chunks of terrain out of the game world, digging underground, to build your space.  You then zone certain areas to do certain dungeon tasks.

The levels flow very well, and build nicely.  New units and rooms are introduced at a good pace, and you will never feel overwhelmed while learning the game, so dive right in.  There is a great balance of tanky combat units, ranged units, spell casters, and builder units.  You can perfect spells, build traps, or station guard posts as methods to defeat your enemies.  Do not expect exact and complete control over your units as you do this.

Considering that I have a copy currently installed on my computer, and have been playing this game since 1998, there are few things I can really complain about this game.  Perhaps it’s too short.  Perhaps it would have been great if the company kept putting out similar titles.  Who’s to say?  Other people may not like this game at all if they love modern RTS gameplay action.  In fact many of the things that I really like about this game may be things other players hate about the game.  I would say that the save and load options, as well as main menu (the UI to devs) could use some polish, but they were pretty standard for the time.

Watch out for cutscenes!  The volume can be drastically different then the gameplay volume.  Other than that the audio is actually quite good during gameplay.  Units say interesting things, the dungeon heart whispers insanely, and just wait till your first minion wins a jackpot in the casino!

Game developers should download and play this game.  Which you can acquire from GOG.com. Or hop over to Amazon for a physical copy. It should be ‘required reading’.  There are so many tropes and mechanics in this game which are executed brilliantly, but completely different then ‘normal’ RTS games everyone who wants to design games should play this one for inspiration.

Indie Game: The Movie

Although shown locally at the Brattle Theatre, I watched Indie Game: The Movie on Netflix.  It really doesn’t feel like 6 months have gone by between each event.  Wow.  Anyway it is a great movie, and sums up a lot of the feel of the development environment of the Boston indie scene.

However, the movie paints an unrealistic portrait of indie game developers by focusing on just a handful.  In a way this is a really bad guide for people on the periphery (like myself).  It paints developers as Maniacs… In the truest sense of the word. High Highs and low lows. Almost the manic depressives of the design world. Stressing out about things which are super important, but ultimately out of their hands.

Also the movie focuses on a couple of producers that made it big.  Which is a rare thing.  There are plenty of ways to be happy in indie games without smashing success. Jonathan blows Braid best represents a guy in the industry that took a long time and did things a little more methodically.  But his success is also an outlier.

What about those of us that are willing to slowly work our way into the industry, because we love it. Those of us who are ok taking it slow. I feel like a middle of the road kind of guy. And indie game the movie is telling me that I have to be on the extreme end of life. I have to be committed to one pursuit and one pursuit only. Can’t have a life, can’t be a well rounded person who enjoys more than just an indie game.  That kind of slow burning passion, which supports the maniacs, is under represented.

The movie says only certain kinds of people make it in the industry and I think that’s a bad message to send to the vast majority of people looking to become game developers.  Where is the rest of the story?

Makers and Game Developers

Here is a chunk of the text called “The Long Tail of Lego” from the book “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution” by Chris Anderson.

To wrap the section up quickly for you, it talks about the transition from old manufacturing to modern manufacturing.  The difference between the original mass production Ford style assembly line, and a new emerging model.  In the new model a primary company produces the same goods using classic manufacturing techniques (Lego), but then niche companies produce specific products, where there is demand, but not enough for the primary company to produce product (BrickArms).

I wonder how well this model describes the relationship between AAA and indie games.  AAA companies churn out mass produced, but popular, titles under manufacturing like conditions.  Indie studios produce smaller title that smaller niche segments of the population are interesting in playing.

"Crossing the Chasm" by Geoffrey A Moore.

Crossing the Chasm
by Geoffrey A Moore.

I wrote this post a long long time ago, and was shocked that it wasn’t posted yet.  This book is so fundamental to how I view technology, and the foundation of some of the blog posts about Minecraft.  In retrospect this should have been posted first to give you a chance to read it before jumping into a discussion of ‘the technology innovation curve’.

This book is key to understanding a significant business problem faced by almost every company.  Start ups feel this effect especially hard, but large companies have the same problems even when launching new product lines.  The book defines “The Chasm”, a period of time which every new technology must pass through in order to succeed.  Therefore every new company must pass through this phase to be profitable and successful.  Without preparing ahead of time a start-up faces the risk of running out out of money.

This book informs so much of my thinking on technology, disruption and innovation that to pay attention to what I’m talking about much of the time, you need to read this.  It was assigned reading for BU, and the information presented cropped up time and time again in class.  Businesses from Eli Lilly to Color Kinetics to E Ink have faced the issues in this book.  Some companies have faced these issues and succeeded, but many more have fallen.

Will you launch into profitability or fall into “The Chasm”?  If you have a new company or are about to start one, read this before finding out the hard way.  The link is to the edition that I own, kindle version available as well.