Archive for November, 2014

Minecraft: Castle Good Hope Construction Site

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

I somehow lost interest in this (more on that later), so it’s basically a construction site, but I thought I write up how I constructed it.

I was looking around for some more baroque things I could build, maybe a small fortified city or something like that. Initially I came upon the Peter & Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, but I could not find any useful plan or schematic.

And then I found this: Castle Of Good Hope, Overview. It has a scale, measures around 240×240 meters, and the layout looks gorgeous. The picture has around 2 pixel per meter, so that can be scaled easily. This star-shaped fortress was built between 1666 and 1682 by the Dutch East India Company (VOC).

I loaded the layout into gimp, fiddled around with the colours so that the black pixels were blacker and thicker, and the colours deeper. Then I made a custom palette with five coulors: black, white, orange, blue, green, and converted the image from RGB to indexed with that palette, replaced white with alpha, and rotated it 60 degrees counterclockwise (because I wanted the walls of the building in the middle to be straight). Finally I scaled it to 50%. Which gave me this: GoodHope

This image I then converted to an mcedit-schematic. There’s some free online-tools which can do this, some standalone programs and even some mcedit filters. Which gave me this: Floorplan Schematic which of course is not very precise. This I placed on the ground with mcedit, and then I started building up, while interpolating and correcting.

This is how it looks right now, from a bit up the ground

CastleGoodHopeView

And from above:

CastleGoodHopeFromAbove

Including the woollen plan beneath it, and with various sandstone blocks to mark where buildings should go.

Now, if you take a close look (or look at a View of Castle Good Hope or a Closeup of the Gate of Castle Good Hope) you realize what this consists of: Basically (granite) cobblestone topped off by red brick! Ugh!. That was the moment I slowly started to decide that I would not finish this.

Add to this that I could not find an elevation-plan of it (only of the earlier square-shaped fortress) and various details remained opaque (although google map view of Castle Good Hope helped a bit; you can see where stairs are), I decided to leave it after I’ve brought into some kind of shape.

So if anyone wants to continue this (perhaps someone frome cape town?) I publish it here. License is public domain, you can do whatever you wish with it. It’s in 1:1 scale, as accurate as possible. The walls are maybe 70% done, although I don’t know if I’ve got the height right, and the topping-off is a bit higher, since I wanted to have half-slabs on top to stop spawning. Also, there’s only grass where It didn’t interfere with the rest of the walls. The Oranje and Leerdam bastions have their gun emplacements, Buuren only two of the five it should have; the rest none yet. And I’m not quite happy with how they look. The entrance lacks everything. The buildings are somewhat staked out, some with approximate height.

The world save is just what you can see in the pictures, the schematic however is the walls only, so you can put it into your world and fill in the rest with whatever you want.

Here they are

On Ebooks and pricing

Monday, November 17th, 2014

I’m an avid reader. And I’ve got quite a collection of books. But apart from some pdfs I bought at rpgnow and some I’ve got from humblebundle, I bought exactly one ebook on the internet.

One reason for this is DRM. I can’t stand it, and I vote with my boots. I will never support such a completely consumer-hostile scheme, not with my money, and I even try to boycott the most egregious abusers of it by not buying their other products as well. Amazon for instance. There are of course some other abuses producers can indulge in which might want me to boycott them, like lobbying for extensions of copyright or ripping of the academic communities with journals and other such rent-seeking activities. But I won’t go into detail here; if buying a book is not as easy as can be or the book has antifeatures like DRM, you can stop right now, you’ve already lost.

Another reason is price. I’m very well aware that producing an ebook has a lot of the same fixed costs as one on paper has, but still, ebooks are much, much too expensive. The one thing that most people seem to forget, is that while ebooks have the same fixed costs (basically the writer and the editor; see Charlie Stross‘ Blog for details) there are practically no costs associated with the individual file you sell. So that base price of the individual unit which came beforehand from printing, stock and distribution, falls away, what remains is the amount for writer, editor, marketing, etc. which can be spread out over as how many units you like.

The question is, where actually is the “right” price for ebooks (and movies, by the way, which also seem to be much too expensive)?

The facts to keep in mind are: Budget and time are constrained on the buyers side. For most books, the things that tell stories are the immediate competition: Movies and computer games, But basically everything else that entertains people is competing with books, like forums and blogs and other places of discourse on the internet. And the public domain will also compete with newer books. Also, while people can (and will, no matter of copyright) share books with their friends they can’t actually resell them and recoup some of the money they spent. So the price needs to be rather low, to compete with all the other offerings, with public domain books, and with used books on paper.

Now, I’ve noticed from my behaviour regarding computer games, that I actually bought a lot of games I already had again, at gog.com or steam. Why? Mostly because they were cheap. With some autumn- summer- and christmas-sales, I’ve just about re-bought all the computer games I’ve already had.

This leads me to the conclusion of what the “sweet price” for ebooks is: The price where I can re-buy all the books I’ve ever had on paper or ever read within the space of maybe a year or two. In my case, that’s probably around 2000 books, some of which I’ve gotten for SFR 1 at garage sales, some I lent out from libraries, some I bought at retail price. The price for all of them should probably be below SFR 10’000; and with the SFR 1 paper ones as measuring stick, probably not a lot more than that. Say between SFR 1 and 4 (one swiss franc, by the way, is slightly more than a dollar nowadays).

Of course, you won’t want to make every book this price; you might want to put prices of popular ones more towards SFR 4 and unpopular ones more towards SFR 1, and of course, for new releases you want to have prices rather towards the prices of the paper version, SFR 15 maybe. Still, even new releases should have prices markedly lower than the paper version, since you really don’t have to take any logistics into account. Plus, you might want to have sales with huge discounts, and bundles, like “all the works of Isaac Asimov for SFR 30”. Take a look at steampowered.com around christmas, and you’ll see what I mean.

Exactly the same thinking can of course be applied to other digital goods, like movies and television series. I suspect the prices there could be a bit higher, maybe something around SFR 3-10 for movies, and maybe SFR 1-4 for single episodes, or SFR 10-20 for whole series. And again, newer ones priced above that, And bundles (“all the James Bond movies for SFR 50”).

The main point here is: There is a price that is so low, people will buy these things just to have them (or even fear that “it will cost more after this sale”), regardless of whether they even get around on reading or watching them. Just for the sake of collecting. Because they remember them, or because they’ve heard about that author and plan on reading something of him some time in the future. It doesn’t even matter if they already have gotten that book from a friend, for free. And, most importantly, it doesn’t matter if they will even find the time to read it; or even expect to find the time.

Questions for game-system rule makers

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

As I’ve been playing some computer RPGs, and read some of the changelogs and wishlists, I noticed some issues relating to history and physics which I will address here, in the hopes it might help game designers to achieve more believable game-(or mostly combat-)systems.

Q: Does a weapon which has the whole mass distributed along its length do more damage on impact than one that centers it on the top?

A: A two-handed sword distributes its maybe 2.5kg along the say 160cm of the blade, with actually its centre of gravity near the hilt. A polearm has a lot of its 2.5kg near the top of its 240cm. Its clear that the momentum of the polearm upon hitting will be much higher than that of the sword, and thus the damage it can inflict. On stabbing motions however, both weapon will inflict similar damage as this is mostly dependant on the user. The advantage of the sword is of course control, which is much better with the centre of gravity near the users hand.

Of course, this is something a lot of games get wrong.

Q: Heavy is bad?

A: For armour, yes. You want the maximum protection at the least weight. Or maybe the weight you can wear in battle, which is around 20-40kg, depending on your size. Heavier armour than that was only worn for tournaments, and there only on horse.

So don’t make your full suits of armour heavier than that. If your game considers size, have it influence the weight of the armour (and the fun of having the player find armour which just doesn’t fit), otherwise make it 30kg (or less for especially good armour…)

For weapons, you want something rather heavy that you can still control with ease, which brings us to…

Q: How much mass and momentum on an elongated hitting device can you control with one hand or with two hands?

A: This depends a bit on the length and centre of gravity, but it’s about 1kg for a 1 meter long thing, and 2.5kg for a 2.5 meter long thing. Which is nicely supported by historical evidence: One-handed weapons tend to have a weight around 1kg with 1 meter length, and all polearms weigh around 2.5kg with a length of 2.5m. Two-handed swords also tend to weigh 2.5kg with a length of 150cm (with shorter ones being lighter).

Of course this may vary a bit depending on who made it and who wants to wield it, but usually history shows weapons to be much lighter than their equivalents in game systems (It’s gotten a bit better. D&D, 1st ed. shows a one-handed sword at 6lbs and a halberd at 15lbs, D&D, 5th ed. shows them at 3lbs and 6lbs).

Q: Why do you think there are flat wide arrowheads used for hunting and tetragonal ones for war?

A: It’s about damage to flesh versus armour-piercing. This can be very much generalised: A pointy bit used for stabbing that’s broad and flat will probably do more damage to flesh but its chance to penetrate armour will be lower than one that’s square.

This means, with thrusting, damage will depend on that, and mostly on one other factor: whether the weapon was used two- or one-handed or what device was used to launch the thrust.

Q: What’s the difference between a blade and a pointy extrusion?

A: Pick or axe? As far as the pointy versus cutty is concerned, this again is a question of damage to armour versus damage to flesh.

As I already answered the case of where the stabbing bit is at the end of something and is used to thrust. But this is a bit different, since we’re actually hitting, not thrusting. And the momentum will vary a lot depending on how long this thing is and whether its used with both hands or not; and also, the momentum will usually be much bigger than with a straight thrust.

A lot of polearms will allow you to choose whether you want to hit your opponent with a blade or a pick, depending on what kind of armour he wears.

Q: What’s the difference between a rounded blade and a straight blade?

A: The question is, do we have a cutting or hitting edge. This is also a question about the armour worn on the other side. The difference between round and straight edges will probably be small, with the straight edge transferring more energy to the target, whereas the round edge will convert some of that energy into a lateral motion (cutting). The cutting will be rather useless against things it can’t cut, so it’s probably less useful against things like chainmail, whereas the damage might be bigger against things it can cut (leather, skin, flesh).

The other thing of course is the question what happens if the whole thing is curved, and there the answer is that with curved blades you can stab around something, making stabs more difficult to parry.

All in all, if you don’t have mechanisms to take these two issues into consideration, just treat them as equal.

Q: Why would you want to ditch a shield for a two-handed weapon?

A: Because if you’ve got two hands to use on the weapon, you’ve got more control, can use longer weapons, have more momentum and inflict more damage. And since you need something to take care of incoming projectiles, you have armour to take care of that.

You’ll notice that shields vanish from the battlefields with the advent of late middle ages plate armour. Made of steel, getting more and more hardened with time. Because that’s the thing that stops most projectiles. You also notice that romans also had some kind of “plate” armour but still carried shields. That’s because it’s made of iron (or even bronze), not steel, and can be rather easily penetrated by arrows.

Q: Why wouldn’t you want to ditch a shield for a second weapon?

A: If it’s about parrying, the bigger the thing you use to parry is, the bigger the chance of not getting hit. If it’s about projectiles, a second weapon won’t help you, but a shield will. And lastly: You can’t hit somebody with two weapons at the same time. So you’ll use one two bind the others weapon (parry) and attack with the other one. And where’s the advantage in that? You could do it with a shield as well.

Of course, if your opponent only has a one-handed weapon and no shield, you will have an advantage (or no disadvantage, if the other also uses a second weapon).

Dual wielding is inferior to anything but single-handedly wielding only one weapon.

Q: If I had a blade on the other end of the weapon could I hit the enemy with it?

A: Yes, as long as the blades are short (or just a pointy bit), and the stick is long, it makes perfectly sense. If not, the blade on the other end makes it impossible to fight with others alongside you, and it makes you loose momentum and control because of the counterweight.

So these things that are basically two swords attached to a hilt in opposite direction are completely useless. Unwise.

Q: What about the difference between a longsword and a broadsword?

Actually, “longsword” does not exist. “long sword” does, and it refers to a small late medieval two-handed sword, with the size about what you can still carry on the hip. In the 19th century mis-named as “bastard sword” or “one-and-a-half-hander”.

But the broadsword is a term used to distinguish it from the smallsword in the 17th century. Both broadsword and smallsword have about the same length (around 1 meter) and the same weight (around 1 kg). The blade of a broadsword is just so much broader and thinner. It probably has some implications regarding bigger wounds inflicted versus reduced capability of piercing armour compared to the smallsword.

Unless your setting incorporates smallswords, forget about broadswords.

Q: How do you carry a weapon?

A: On the hip. And if its too long, on the shoulder. Yes, that’s it. Apart from small weapons in you boot, throwing knifes on your arms or chest and other things like that, you carry it on your hip. Even quivers, unless you’re an american indian. And you don’t carry weapons on your back you intend to use, because you wouldn’t be able to draw them.

Yes, you could draw some short sword or machete from your back, but then, while you’re drawing it, you’re wide open to attack. There’s a reason nobody ever did that in history.

Q: How are quality differences in arms and armour expressed?

A: Basically, it varies with a) the materials and b) the techniques used to process these materials, and both tend to get better with time (unless suddenly constrained by financial or logistical questions).

Useable materials for weapons are wood (sharpened stick, hardened in fire), flint, copper (yes, there was actually a “copper age”) bronze, iron and steel, plus maybe some mythical metals such as mithril. For armour it’s leather, wood, copper, bronze, paper, cloth, iron, steel (with leather and copper so bad, you don’t want it).

The general mechanics is this: It must be workable; it should not break; it should be able to have an edge; it should keep an edge, it should not bend and stay bent, it must have the right weight. You can’t really have a sword of a material that has a totally different weight unless you make it smaller or more massive. Since weight and possible damage are mostly fixed by the form the product takes, you need to differentiate mostly on durability. Which of course is more interesting for armour, because there it also impacts the protection it offers.

Usually the one that matters is iron and steel.

And there’s a huge variance between different things made of steel. Depending on the techniques used (and whether the ore found already contained the right traces of other elements and carbon) you get from rather soft (roman lorica segmentata) to incredibly hard and resilient (gothic plate armour).

So rather than invent a plethora of new materials, just add techniques (look for “damascene steel”, “crucible steel” and “wootz”) or flowery names of where the steel (or even the product) should come from. It was even common to refer to the workshop. So a “Helmschmied breast plate” or an “Ulfberht sword” might be rather exquisite.

With armour, you could also conflate several layers of armour that was worn above each other at various times: tunic and unriveted chainmal, tunic and riveted chainmail, tunic and lorica segmentata, gambeson and chainmail, gambeson and chainmail and coat-of-plate, light gambeson and chainmail and brigantine, light gambeson and chainmail and (soft) full plate, arming doublet and (hardened) full plate. You get the picture.

Q: But a bronze weapon will cause less damage than a steel weapon?

A: No. Bronze is soft and can be ground to an extremely sharp edge in a very short time. Which it will also loose rather fast. It tends to bend and can’t be worked into very long shapes, which is why bronze axes are more interesting than swords. But against flesh, the effect of a bronze weapon is the same as if it was iron or steel.

The thing changes very much when it comes to armour. A bronze edged weapon goes through leather like butter, has troubles against bronze armour and can’t do anything against anything made of iron (except battering; which incidentally works also extremely well against bronze armour, nicely against iron and soft steel, and not at all against hardened steel).

Q: Leather armour is bad?

A: Well, it’s not armour in most cases, since even stone weapons cut through it nicely, let alone bronze weapons or even medieval eating knives (yes, I rammed an eating knife through 1cm so-called cuir-boilli with ease). It’s one of these roleplaying-game myths.

Leather was used within armour, tough, as carrier for riveting on small metal plates for instance, and sometimes also to cover these up (leading to something wich looks like leather with rivets on it).

Just don’t use it; if you need light armour, go with gambesons or other armour made of layers of cloth, or with only parts of armour. A gothic breast plate and an open helmet don’t inhibit any movement, do not make noise (even less than leather would) and they weigh about 4kg, respectively 2.5kg, but they protect your vitals.

Q: Can I swim with armour?

A: Basically, no. Wearing chainmail, you’re 8-20kg heavier than otherwise, and most people can swim only 2-4 meters with that. Plus there’s probably some gambeson beneath your chainmail. With gambesons alone, in the league from 4-8kg, your chances are better, you might get some 50 meters until any trapped air has gone out and the whole thing starts sucking up water.

The useful thing to do is to get rid of armour while you’re sinking, which actually might be possible with chainmail or gambeson (although you need to loose your belt), or some parts of plate armour (neither shoulder nor arms and legs probably).

Pictures from the late middle ages show soldiers swimming for an attack in their underpants, shoes (they’re rather light: my reconstruction half-high boots are 480g each) and hats, with their pikes(!).