I Wish Game Dev Tycoon Had More Competition

Being able to make a living off of my creative work is my driving motivation in life and has been for some three or four years now. Thus, naturally, I like games like Game Dev Tycoon, where I get to pretend for a bit that doing this is quick and easy. Unfortunately, Game Dev Tycoon specifically is kind of meh.

Now, don’t get the wrong impression. GDT is not shovelware. It starts you out somewhere ambiguously in the 80s (time is tracked as years since game start, not actual years, which allows the pace of events to be set faster or slower by a drop down) and takes you through to the near future, and demonstrates a pretty solid understanding and appreciation for video game history on the way, it’s updated itself to account for the release of the eight generation of consoles, including the fairly recent Nintendo Switch, and has speculative ninth generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft. And while the game isn’t super deep, it isn’t a SimCity 2013, either. If you sit around doing nothing, you will not end up with a studio that is lawless, flooded with sewage, and on fire, but somehow still turning a profit and steadily growing. You can go bankrupt if too many of your games flop, and in fact, early on two failed titles in a row will do the trick (an unrealistic amount of breathing room for a small studio, but being able to rebound from failed experiments by picking something reliable is unquestionably a better gameplay experience). There’s even fun little references that you might never even notice until they’re pointed out to you, like how your starting garage studio in 1984-ish has a DeLorean under a tarp on the far wall, a cheeky implication that you’ve used it to time travel back to the beginning of the post-crash era of video games.

But although your input matters at all and it can even take a bit of analysis to get the hang of how to train your staff once you become a larger company, for the most part, the gameplay of Game Dev Tycoon is in playing it safe and recreating what came before. Even very effective studio management from a very well trained team won’t save your game from a bizarre and unpopular genre/topic/audience combination. This is certainly realistic, but Game Dev Tycoon isn’t about realism, it’s about fantasy. That’s why even a very early studio can bounce back from a single flop, giving them time to learn from their mistake when most small studios couldn’t realistically survive a single failed game. Although it is possible to use on-the-ball time/staff-management to do quirky runs like “every game has the same target audience” or, God help you, “every game has the same topic,” doing so isn’t challenging, it’s boring.

Optimizing your staff and development is pretty straightforward after your first playthrough (and your first playthrough was probably a standard “let’s just make good games based on market trends” run), and after that, an intentional handicap to your review scores and sales just means it’s harder to stay on top of the tech curve which means you spend more time between unlocks. The game just isn’t dynamic enough for drastically changing your approach from one game to another to be worth it. There’s one optimal way to make each kind of game and, like, five types of game, so once you’ve got those optimized, you’re still shifting sliders around, but only because you can’t save presets. The only actual choice you’re making is whether the game is Action, Adventure, RPG, Strategy, Simulation, or Casual, each of which has an optimum balance of development time spent on graphics as opposed to sound as opposed to world design and etc. etc., and each of which has an optimal list of features. You can mix and match those genres, but each combination can also be optimized and only a few matches are viable. Action-Strategy doesn’t require a specific approach to work, it just automatically takes a bad genre crossover penalty.

The only thing that’s different from one playthrough of Game Dev Tycoon to another is which four topics you start with and what order you can unlock new ones in. Since each topic has an intuitive and optimal match-up to genre and target audience, only one variable is really changing here. Technically, the job applicants you get when seeking staff also vary, but the differences are too small to really make a difference. Ultimately, it’s very easy to get a few design-heavy devs, a few technology-heavy devs, and to train and assign them appropriately to different tasks during development to make high-rated games consistently, so you just do that, the same way, every time. You aren’t mastering a system. You’re learning a recipe.

Pewdiepie’s Tuber Simulator had a similar thing where different video topics were more or less popular at different times, but it also had a mechanic whereby you only have three video ideas to pick from, each on a different topic taken from a list of…I think eight? Maybe ten. The point is, you get a random selection of less than half of all topics to pick from, so sometimes you have to make do with something that you don’t have a whole lot of points in or which is pretty played out in the current market. When you’re playing Tuber Simulator, every time you go to make a new video, you have to make a decision, and you can’t do it completely on auto-pilot. Sometimes it’s obvious, and the topic you’re best at is also the thing that’s currently trending and it’s one of your three available selections, but sometimes you have to make a choice between something you’re good at and something that’s popular, and sometimes your gamer/horror ‘tuber has to make a cooking video because it’s the least bad idea they have today. Mechanics like that keep the game engaging, and Game Dev Tycoon could really benefit from them.

Spider-Man and Philosophy: Red or Black

What is your self, really? And also, I guess, when Spider-Man puts on the black suit, does he change into a different person?

No. That isn’t me giving an answer because I think it’s obvious, and it isn’t the answer the essay gives, either. The essay references the black suit’s effects on Spider-Man a lot, but never actually makes the argument that Spider-Man becomes a different person by putting on the black suit. It kind of implies it will at some point, but then it doesn’t.

But what is your self? Your emotions? In practice, we tend to refer to our emotions as things that happen to us, and to which we can be prone, but not really what we are. You do not become a literally different person because you are angry. Your thoughts? How does that work? Do you cease to be every time one thought completes and another begins? Memories? But we don’t usually think of amnesiacs as being a new person walking around in the old one’s body, but rather as someone who can’t remember who they used to be.

The essay wanders around talking about biopsychosocial connections, but ultimately the answer here is that your self is the persistent consciousness which experiences things. Peter Parker and Eddie Brock both are the same guy before and after bonding with the symbiote, because their consciousness has not ceased. This is kind of a cop-out answer, though, because we have no idea what the consciousness is, where it comes from, and can’t even prove that there’s more than one. I know that am conscious and experience things, but I don’t know if anyone else does. Presuming you are, in fact, conscious, you know that you are conscious, but you don’t know for sure if I am. I assume you’re conscious because you behave more or less the same way I do, so I expect you have that quality in common with me as well, but there’s nothing I can measure to know for sure, and indeed it’s not clear how I could possibly test that, or you test me for my consciousness.

Punting to consciousness is kind of like punting to quantum physics, in that it’s an unknown thing that could therefore theoretically be responsible for anything, but in this case it really is most consistent with how people use the concept of “self.” It’s just not a very satisfying answer, because we understand almost nothing about it.

I Am On TVTropes Which Is Neat I Guess

I don’t really have any topics for a Tuesday article leaping out to grip me, but my post on why Vampire: the Last Night is terrible did get linked on TVTropes as an explanation of why that adventure is bad, so I now get a steady trickle of traffic from that link. That’s not like a watershed moment for the blog or anything, it’s still like two or three views a day and I usually get at least ten times that many even when I’m producing less and less popular content (like these Spider-Man and Philosophy reviews have been going), but I noticed it in my blog stats when I was double checking how much my schedule slip has maimed my view count this time, so hey, that’s neat.

Writing Action: Reversals, Limited Resources, and Compounding Problems

People want to know how to write action scenes, and advice on this tends to range from “adopt a specific writing style” to “give up, people only read books for dialogue/inner monologues/flowery prose descriptions of sunny hills.” Now, no one is ever going to be satisfied with a book that’s trying to be the novelization of a hypothetical Jackie Chan film. You can’t carry a book on action-comedy with an excuse plot the way you can a movie, because not being a visual medium does have some problems.

But it’s still totally possible to write good action scenes, and the secret to that is not in how long your sentences are. It’s in reversals, limited resources, and compounding problems.

Reversals of fortune just means that whoever is currently winning starts losing. The person currently losing pulls out some special tactic, unveils a new weapon from their arsenal, receives reinforcements, whatever, and now suddenly they are winning. Then their opponent does the same thing. Constant reversals keep it up in the air who’s going to win. It’s worth noting that “winning” is relative here. A hero badly outmatched by a powerful villain might be trying to escape, in which case reversals in the hero’s favor can be about the hero creating distance and hiding rather than doing any kind of damage. You can also have reversals where the person currently losing tries something, it looks like it’s going to work, and then it doesn’t, leaving the situation back where we started. The villain unveils a new death ray, powers it up, points it at the hero, and then it blows up in their face. The reversal in the hero’s favor is just that the reversal in the villain’s favor turned out to be a dud, but it still works.

Limited resources means setting up how many resources your hero and villain have to burn through, and then using the remaining resources to track how close they are to defeat. These can be literal resources, like bullets in a gun or gas in a tank, and they can also be abstract resources, like layers of defense on a castle. You can have a battle that goes from the outer walls, to the streets of the city, and then into the keep at the center, and your audience will get that the defenders are getting closer to defeat as they run out of places to retreat to. Limited resources need to be significant enough that running out of them serves as a reversal, or better yet ends the action in favor of one or the other entirely, and they should not generally be something that you can just get more of. Although it’s possible to have a battle that bounces back and forth between the city streets and the city wall, you don’t usually want that to happen, and instead let defenses topple one by one. Measure the attacking army’s strength separately, with something like the number of active commanders. This way, attacker and defender are not swinging back and forth in a stalemate that could go on forever, but instead both are slowly depleting their resources and whoever hits zero first is the loser. You can also have both sides of a fight have separate pools of the same resource. The most straightforward one is bodily health. Unless you’re writing LitRPG, you don’t want to quantify this with literal hit points, but you can have both sides taking serious injuries that meaningfully impede their ability to fight, and your audience will get that eventually one side or another will be totally incapacitated.

Finally, compounding problems. You don’t want an action scene to revolve too heavily around a problem coming up and then immediately being solved, as this gives no time for tension to build. Instead, bring up a problem, have the protagonist(s) attempt to solve it, and while they’re trying, increase the pressure and the stakes. While one protagonist tries to hack door controls, the other has to fight off waves of bad guys, and the bad guys do things like call upon elite reinforcements, start coming up through the walls, and start putting snipers into place to shoot the hacker, with each problem compounding the last: The elites are still there when the vents pop open and start a second flank to the fight, and both of that is ongoing when a sniper starts lining up a shot. The pressure keeps rising until the door pops open and our heroes can make their escape. Instead of problems coming up and being solved one by one, creating the impression that our heroes could do this all day, compounding problems can create the impression that the next bit of straw could always be the one that breaks the camel’s back.

Spider-Man and Philosophy: Why Is My Spider-Sense Tingling?

Philosophers never tire of reminding people that all of science used to be considered a specific sub-branch of philosophy, and there is no faster way to agitate a philosopher than to remind them how much of their field has been devoured by science and of the looming threat that more might bite off a chunk. I’m pretty sure ethics is safe forever (even if we determine through neuroscience that all humans secretly have the same ethical code – and that would be an extremely surprising discovery – there is still the question of whether it would be right to change it), but questions like “do I see the same green that you see” and “what is happiness” have turned out to mainly be questions of photons and brain chemicals and philosophy is never getting them back no matter how many whiny essays PhDs write about it.

In fairness to today’s philosopher, Andrew Terjesen, this isn’t an essay about “what does it really mean to sense something” so much as it is about the history of philosophical conversation on that subject, back when science was primitive enough that it even made sense to have a philosophical conversation on the subject. Plus, pondering the nature of Spider-Man’s spider-sense is probably always going to be fodder for philosophical debate of a sort, on account of Spider-Man isn’t real.

Nevertheless, this is mainly an accounting of people lacking access to the body of scientific knowledge necessary to understand perception making blind guesses as to how it works. I can admire how close several of them managed to get using only the senses themselves, but it’s still a long string of wrong explanations until eventually it turned out that this was actually the domain of science, which is distinct from philosophy in that it can rely on exact measurements. For example, John Locke divided sensory input into two categories, primary qualities and secondary qualities. Primary qualities included things like size and texture, and could not be mistaken. Secondary qualities included things like color and sound, and could be mistaken. There’s no fundamental difference between the photons that communicate color and the bumps and grooves that communicate texture, though. The difference lies within, in our brains, which are more prone to inaccurately interpreting visual data than touch data. Heat is not a “secondary quality,” it’s every bit as absolute and measurable as size. The reason why lukewarm water feels simultaneously hot and cold if you had one hand in a pot of cold water and another in a pot of hot water before putting both into the lukewarm, that’s because of how our neurology works, not some property of heat.

Also, there’s a bit towards the end where Terjesen claims that morality can’t be relative because he would find that to be personally upsetting, and therefore comes to the conclusion that Spider-Man’s spider-sense must be somehow capable of measuring the evilons produces by objectively immoral beings and objects (including things like bombs, since the spidey sense can detect those). This is dumb. While it is, in some sense, true that a mind control villain who rewrote everyone’s brains so that no one cared about infant murder would have made infant murder “moral,” the brains we have right now strongly object to that kind of mindfucking, which makes the initial act not only wrong on account of violating the autonomy of every individual of the world, but also wrong because it is presumably the prelude to some infant murder. The use of specifically infant murder to make the point also rather suggests that Terjesen is relying on shock value to carry the argument. Regular murder would’ve worked just as well and been far more within the realm of actual Spider-Man villain plots, but that lack of shock means it would not have had any chance of disabling people’s reason.

This may explain why Terjesen is married to 17th- and 18th-century philosophical explanations for subjects that science has since gobbled up: Science and reason tell us pretty unerringly that not only is there no such thing as objective morality, such a thing cannot even plausibly exist. When asked to describe what objective morality actually means, no one is able to deliver a cogent answer except “the belief that my feelings are more important than other people’s.” When pressed for what actual, objectively real thing they could possibly be positing as the root of objective morality, those who defend the notion reliably give answers that are something like “the existence of an all-powerful supernatural entity who agrees with me on everything” or “the existence of a form of radiation as-yet undetectable to science whose emissions perfectly match my personal predictions of what is or isn’t moral.” Neither of these suggests anything about morality, just that at least one person, by pure dumb luck, happened to have morals that lined up with some bizarre natural phenomenon. And it’s noteworthy that none of the adherents to so-called objective morality are ever willing to bet money that science will confirm their allegedly objective correctness under any timeframe.

People who claim to believe in “objective morality” are consistently unable to describe what that actually means, and when pressed, if they do not simply evade the question forever, will ultimately give an answer that boils down to “brute force is employed to subjugate other people to my morality,” whether that brute force comes in the form of a specific supernatural entity tormenting and/or obliterating dissidents or just from the universe itself having some natural process that, slowly but surely, requires everyone to agree with the “objective” moralist. In the end, objective moralists reliably turn out to simply be people with weak convictions and a cowardly nature, who need to imagine the backup of omnipotent and omnipresent enforcers to call something “right” or “wrong,” who lack the fortitude to, when asked “but why is it wrong?” to answer “because believe it is.”

Spider-Man and Philosophy: With Great Power Comes Great Culpability

Is Spider-Man responsible for Uncle Ben’s death? He let the thief who ultimately shot him escape. Had he done the right thing, Uncle Ben would be alive. But, like, come on, how was Peter Parker supposed to know that this thief was violent enough to kill anyone, let alone specifically Uncle Ben? Is Peter really culpable for Uncle Ben’s death due to what amounts to dumb luck?

That’s how the law works. Not in the sense that Peter is legally responsible for Uncle Ben’s death, even under Good Samaritan laws (which I don’t think New York even has, but I didn’t check), but in the sense that if you do something that could have resulted in negligent homicide and nothing happens, you’re off the hook, but if you do something that does result in negligent homicide, you’re going to prison for at least a year. Even for intentional crimes, we hand out lesser sentences for trying to kill someone and failing than for actually making it work. This seems weird no matter how you slice it. In terms of both retribution and rehabilitation, someone who tries to do a murder and just isn’t very good at it is equally disturbed, whether we want to punish them for their wickedness or heal them of it, for deterrence, the action we’re trying to deter is, in fact, attempting the murder, since obviously the would-be murderer cannot know in advance whether or not they’ll succeed, so attempted and successful murder should be deterred equally, and for incapacitation, murder frequently carries a life or even death sentence, which are the only two sentences that make any kind of sense from the perspective of incapacitation (assuming we’re unwilling to hack off limbs), whereas attempted murder almost never does, so what gives.

But look at the negligent homicide example again. Someone fails to get their brakes checked, even though they’ve been acting up for a while. After a few months, they finally roll into the mechanic and get them fixed. The mechanic tells them that they could’ve really hurt someone due to being unable to brake, and the driver shrugs and gets on with their life. No crime has been committed. Someone else does the exact same thing, accidentally kills someone, and because the brakes were a known issue that they intentionally ignored, they’re going to jail for at least a year (depending, I’m sure, on jurisdiction). Putting them right next to each other, it doesn’t seem fair, but what’s the solution? Do we let the guy who killed someone because he couldn’t be bothered to get a mechanic to check his failing brakes for months off the hook? Or do we punish everyone whose actions could have resulted in negligent homicide with a minimum of a year in prison? Granted, you might think the American prison system is sufficiently barbaric that subjecting someone to a year of it (possibly many) is disproportionate, but substitute whatever punishment you think is justified for actually killing someone through negligence. Should everyone who could potentially have killed someone through a negligent action be punished this way? Most people wouldn’t say so.

Also, although it’s only relevant to a minor detail of the article that I’ve glossed over in my summary, TIL that in the comics Aunt May got in an argument with Uncle Ben that led to his leaving the house, which resulted in his fateful encounter with the burglar. She actually blames herself for Uncle Ben’s death as much as Peter. I won’t say this redeems undoing Aunt May’s death, which is, like, the only good part of the Clone Saga, but hey, at least in the twenty years since hitting that reset button we have had one moment that was actually at all useful. Did you know that reversing Aunt May’s death was apparently a signing requirement for a creator who turned out to suck anyway? First clue should’ve been that he insisted on reversing a really well done death scene to bring back a character that Spider-Man had outgrown.

Anyway, ultimately Peter Parker’s culpability in Uncle Ben’s death is an open question, because while you could reasonably predict that letting an armed robber go might result in violence, it’s hardly a straightforward chain of causality, Aunt May is definitely just guilt tripping herself because the connection between arguing with your husband and him being murdered could not possibly have been predicted by any given reasonable person, and John Byrne should be tried at the Hague.

Musing on the Sinister Six

I’ve been doing research into super villain team-ups lately. Like super hero team-ups, these fall into basically two categories: Teams like the X-Men or their evil counterparts in the Brotherhood of Mutants who are built from the ground up to be teams, and post-hoc team-ups of established heroes/villains like the Avengers or our heroes today, the Sinister Six. Creating a villain team isn’t that different from creating an ensemble cast of heroes, and the ensemble outlines I’ve already written about apply equally to them. What about Avengers-style villain team-ups?

I haven’t determined any general purpose rules for them yet, probably because so far I’ve only really examined the Sinister Six, but here’s what I’ve found about that particular line-up.

The original Sinister Six line-up consists of Doc Ock, Electro, Vulture, Sandman, Mysterio, and Kraven the Hunter. The middle four are in no particular order, but notably Doc Ock is almost always the leader of the Sinister Six and Kraven is only there because “Sinister Five” isn’t alliterative. Spidey has subsequently gotten much better villains to fill that spot. Hobgoblin and Rhino have filled the sixth spot in the past, and while Venom was only ever a part of Sandman’s Sinister Six assembled for revenge on Doc Ock, he’s also a good choice for the sixth spot. The 2018 video game put Mister Negative in there, and even though Mister Negative is a C-tier villain no one cares about, it still worked, because Kraven’s spot is a total wild card, so go ahead and shove your favorite underrated Spidey villain in there, it’s a free space.

Chameleon and Shocker have also been in the Sinister Six before, but they’ve got a bit of overlap with Electro and Mysterio, respectively, so you should probably avoid putting them in the same story unless you have a plan to draw attention to their differences. Also, Beetle makes appearances surprisingly often, despite the fact that you have never heard of him and don’t care, and Scorpion makes appearances surprisingly rarely, despite the fact that he’s no more averse to team-ups than most villains and is easily as recognizable as some of the roster-fillers like Mysterio and Vulture.

Into the Spider-Verse had a very different Sinister Six line-up. Kingpin is in charge, Doc Ock is his number two (she isn’t especially loyal and has her own motives, but that is true of most Sinister Six members – in their first appearance, their infighting led to them running a gauntlet on Spidey one by one because they refused to work directly with one another, and Spidey mocked them at the end for being defeated when they probably would’ve won if they’d just worked together). Green Goblin, who is normally too megalomaniacal to work with other villains in any capacity except as their undisputed master, and Scorpion, who is perfectly good Sinister Six fodder but doesn’t usually join for no reason I can think of, are both on the team. Prowler is normally an also-ran villain unworthy of a Sinister Six spot, but in Spider-Verse he stole the show as the stand-out villain of the bunch, and then also Tombstone was there. He is also normally an also-ran villain unworthy of a Sinister Six spot, and in Spider-Verse, he is still that. Nothing’s perfect, I guess.

The Spider-Verse version breaks a lot of Sinister Six rules, like “the Green Goblin never joins the Sinister Six” and “Doc Ock always leads the Sinister Six.” If you want to make your own Sinister Six story, do not do this. In Spider-Verse, the whole point is that Miles Morales’ dimension is similar, but different, to Peter B. Parker’s. His Scorpion has eight limbs (nine, counting the tail), his Green Goblin is a hulking brute instead of a lithe super soldier, his Doc Ock is a woman, and his Kingpin was bitten by a radioactive dump truck. You can swap out any member of the Sinister Six if it serves a purpose, and in Spider-Verse, there was a purpose to be served by the entire line-up being radically altered. Sandman’s Sinister Six had no Doc Ock at all because its purpose was for revenge on Doc Ock. Speaking of Sandman, he dances across the hero/villain line now and then, which means he might sometime be unavailable for his usually sacrosanct spot in the roster, and will have to be replaced (you could even get a good story out of Sandman confronting his former allies in the Sinister Six as a friend of Spider-Man).

This is a slapped together post about a half-complete research project I happened to be undertaking, so it’s not really going anywhere and has no conclusion except for this sentence explaining a lack of a conclusion. So. Uh. Have a sinister Tuesday.

Guardian One: Hello World

This is something I started writing on a whim, so it feels like a pretty good thing to stick into a Sunday filler slot. I’m probably posting it to someplace like Royal Road at some point, but for now I’m holding off in case I decide to tweak details about setting or character in the future, which means there may be differences between this version and the final version. Not just line-by-line editing for clarity and pace (for example, this entire first chapter might get cut if this story makes it to a final release to Amazon, but not for Royal Road), but significant overhauls in character personality and the time and location of the setting. The year given has shifted by several decades in several directions from 2039 to 2099 since I started writing, and may continue to do so. Basic setting assumptions about the source and nature of the crime problem and the geographic location of the setting have been altered, and may be altered again.

Continue reading “Guardian One: Hello World”

Spider-Man and Philosophy: Does Great Power Bring Great Responsibility?

These essays are grouped together by theme again, and naturally the whole “power and responsibility” thing invites a lot of related essays. Since these guys aren’t the writers behind Into the Spider-Verse, expect a lot of direct, on-the-nose references to the line rather than subtle allusions to it that avoid exact quotes.

This essay examines the famous quote itself. Sure, power, responsibility, yada yada, the general vibe is certainly accurate, but brass tacks: Spider-Man is obligated to save people from super villains because that sells movie tickets. If he ever decided he’d done his good in the world and didn’t need anymore, that’d be the end of a lucrative franchise. Whether or not Spider-Man is actually morally obligated to help people is totally unrelated to whether his franchise will behave as though he’s morally obligated. But is the conceit of the franchise, coincidentally, correct? Regardless of the real reasons why Spider-Man movies claim Spidey is morally obligated to fight super villains, do their given reasons also just happen to be true?

As another way of putting it, when Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Steve Ditko made the comics, they presumably picked the whole “power and responsibility” motif because they knew they were writing a super hero, tried to come up with a good heroic motivation, and decided this qualified. Was that decision philosophically sound? Does it survive scrutiny?

The essay goes on to explain two basic theories of responsibility. In the first, you are responsible for not harming people, and it’s noble to additionally help people, but you aren’t required. According to this principle, the Good Samaritan who helps a random stranger (of an enemy tribe, even!) back to safety after discovering the aftermath of a vicious robbery, that guy is heroic, but it wouldn’t be villainous to just leave him on the side of the road. From this perspective, if someone is plummeting to their death and Spider-Man is swinging by, it’s nice if Spidey saves him, but it isn’t required. If Spider-Man declines to save him, he hasn’t behaved nobly, but he hasn’t done anything wrong.

This seems kind of weird. Like, it wouldn’t even be that hard for Spider-Man to save that guy. It’s like a thirty second detour. If someone prizes thirty seconds of their own time over someone else’s life, that seems pretty villainous. Thus, the essay segues us into our next perspective. The essay doesn’t attribute the first perspective to anyone in particular, but it does attribute the next philosophical paradigm to John Stuart Mill, a utilitarian. In John Stuart Mill’s perspective, what matters is whether or not you are causing harm overall. A hypothetical sinister Spider-Man who cares more about being briefly inconvenienced than about someone else’s life isn’t just someone who has failed to be heroic, but someone who has committed an act of villainy. The greatest good for the greatest amount of people is what matters, and willfully ignoring an opportunity to increase the greater good is always wrong (especially when the trade-off is this obvious).

The essay also examines the question of vigilantism: Is Spider-Man justified in taking the law into his own hands? Super hero stories almost never address the problem of a masked vigilante whose motives are even slightly impure. Even the Punisher is portrayed as exclusively targeting violent, organized criminals and never hurting anyone with a stray bullet. In season 2 of Daredevil, he talks up his USMC training and how it has magically made him so preternaturally accurate that he can fire multiple shotgun blasts in a hospital and still be certain that no one but his target will get hit (despite failing to hit his target with every shot), or unload on a cafe in the middle of a densely packed city on full-auto and somehow be certain not only that the target cafe is totally empty of civilian targets, but that every other building in the cone of potential danger is totally empty, and that starting gunfights with dangerous criminals in the middle of populated areas won’t result in the criminals’ stray bullets ever hurting anyone, bearing in mind that Punisher’s backstory is that his family were killed by stray bullets in a gang war. The Punisher kills people and that’s supposed to make him morally grey, but never do we see a vigilante whose recklessness inflicts civilian casualties as collateral damage, or who take it upon themselves to kill criminals that “everyone knows” are guilty and end up killing actual innocent people.

Regardless of that, though, Spidey doesn’t personally stalk random black kids and threaten them to leave the neighborhood because he assumes they’re burglars. He patrols for violent crimes actively in progress and half the time he fights super villains mid-bank robbery. Spider-Man is personally too morally upright for his taking the law into his own hands to be a problem. He isn’t accountable to the public, but he happens to be sufficiently responsible that he behaves the way we’d want law enforcement to anyway. Also something something Civil War something anti-registration. The essay contends that Spider-Man can do more good disregarding the law, even though upholding the law is usually a good idea. In the comics, this is definitely true, but only because there is that bizarre lack of costumed vigilantes being outright villains. At worst, they are anti-heroes who thwart violent criminals with violent force, often even tracking them down to their hideouts to kill them – but since they never hit the wrong target, who cares? The actual danger of rising vigilantism, that of people taking the law into their own hands and subsequently going mad with power, overtrusting their crime fighting abilities and injuring or killing people on a hunch, that never even comes up. Since the bad side effects of vigilantism arbitrarily fail to happen, of course Spider-Man is justified in engaging in vigilante justice. There’s no downside! The police may as well be disbanded and people left to enforce the law on their own initiative, because in Marvel-world that somehow just works out.

That whole tangent wasn’t in the essay, it just occurred to me while I was writing about it. The actual essay just concludes that Spider-Man’s vigilantism is justified, and furthermore, even under the strictest (reasonable) interpretations of responsibility, Spider-Man’s willingness to fight villain team-ups like the Sinister Six, enemies against whom he faces serious threat of death, mean that he’s going far beyond the demands of responsibility. He is a hero, doing more than is necessary just to be considered a decent person.

The Optimal MMORPG Day/Night Cycle

The MMORPG genre is basically dead, on account of being crazy-expensive to produce upfront (though very cheap to keep running, despite lingering myths that it is still 1998 and server costs are a thing we have to care about, like, at all) and the audience having mostly moved on, first to MOBAs, then to arena shooters, and now to the whole survival of the fittest PUBG/Fortnite thing.

But hey, being current was never really this blog’s schtick, so let’s talk about the optimal day/night cycle for a genre that is almost impossible to produce new installments for. I guess maybe like ten or fifteen years from now advancing tech will allow indie MMORPGs to be a thing the way they’ve brought back Infinity Engine games and stuff.

The trick with an MMORPG day/night cycle is that 1) you want the average player to see both the day and the night of your cycle. If your day/night cycle is 1:1 with the real world, then sure, America always plays in the morning, Europe in the afternoon, and China at night, but so far as each individual player is concerned, you may as well have just made it a static time and called it a day.

But also 2) you want the average player to be able to spend a significant amount of their session in either day or night, so that you can have content occur in one or the other. If you have decent dawn and sunset times (and you should), then day and night occupy only about a third of your cycle each. If your cycle is one hour long, that means your day- or night-exclusive content is available only in twenty minute bursts, way too short for players to notice it’s night and go somewhere to do something about it. They have to track when in the hour your night cycle begins and head to the cemetery in advance to fight the vampires as soon as night falls (or whatever).

Even if your day/night cycle is purely cosmetic, having a very short day/night cycle means it’s much harder to have a sense of having an adventuring day. The average player’s session is probably going to be about 2-3 hours, which means that during one real life day of play, an hour-long cycle gives 2-3 days’ worth of adventuring. But since you probably don’t have sleep or thirst mechanics or anything (and those would probably not be a good idea), this all blurs together, resulting in the day/night cycle being practically unnoticeable. If you’re going to have a day/night cycle, size it to fit the average player’s session, so that it feels like their play session for the day is equal to one day in the life of their character.

To satisfy these requirements, four hours is about ideal. It still syncs up with a 24 hour clock (module the need for occasional leap seconds, if you really want to be precise). Most players will probably only see about half the cycle on any given day, but because the exact length of their play session and the exact time they stop and start will probably vary by an hour or so day by day, they will see all of the day/night cycle over the course of a week or so (whereas, with a 24-hour cycle, you might once every few months play the game at a very unusual time, but 99% of the time you’re probably playing in the afternoon and evenings every day except the days you don’t play at all).

Players are much less likely to see multiple days in one session, though, unless they’re really marathoning by playing for over four hours at a stretch, which is hardly typical (not that early MMOs didn’t try to incentivize people to play for such absurd lengths, for some dumb reason – even when subscription fees were ubiquitous, you get paid for consistency, not obsession, devs). This preserves the “one day of gameplay per day” thing that the 24-hour cycle attempts to achieve, but fails to, on account of players don’t play the game for like eight hours a day (except when they do, but Christ, don’t do that).

Finally, day/night content is around for a full hour and twenty minutes, which means that when night falls, someone can notice that night has fallen, spend twenty minutes extricating themselves from whatever they happened to be doing, go to the cemetery, and still probably have 50 minutes at least to fight the vampires before the sun comes up. Even content that happens strictly during dawn and dusk (40 minutes each under this system – 40 minutes of dawn followed by 80 minutes of day followed by 40 minutes of sunset followed by 80 minutes of night, total of 240 minutes, which is four hours) is reasonably accessible, if for some reason you ever do that, although I expect most MMOs will use dawn and/or dusk as extensions on day and night that apply to some, but not all, events. Like, some content is available at dusk and night but goes away at dawn, some content happens whenever it isn’t night, but probably nothing is only available only at dusk.

The day/night cycle even lines up reasonably well to an in-game calendar, if that is for some reason something you care about, in that one IRL day is six game days, which is roughly a week, and five IRL days is thirty game days, which is a month-ish, and every 61 IRL days (loosely, two months) is close to a game year. If you’re running a game whose scale benefits from the in-game timeline moving faster than the IRL timeline (and many settings do, especially the bog standard epic fantasy), then this calendar allows for easy conversion while still allowing for years to pass relatively quickly. A story arc released incrementally over the course of three years – not atypical in long-running MMOs – can happen over the span of an entire generation of in-game time, but it’s easy for players to remember 1 real day = 1 game week, 1 real work week = 1 game month, and 2 real months = 1 game year, and thus keep track of how time works in the game.