Derik Badman's Journal

May 2021

2021-05-03 08:32

Effort on this journal seems to fade the more I get caught up in other projects. Spending a lot of time working on some coding projects. I've refactored my RPG Table Randomizer into ES6 Modules and Classes, cleaning up the code a lot, adding some improvements to how it works. I've also been working on an online version of my Hadleyville RPG, using Angular (which I only chose because I need to learn it for work). That is coming along, though it is so far mostly unstyled. Thanks to the randomizer library I've got all the tables showing up and you can click a button to get random results from each. Working on a way to create notes and add the table results to them, so you could have a list of NPCs and some town details and maybe create a starting list of events. Angular makes a number of things simpler, but adds so much overhead and new syntax and modules and build steps, that I'm not sure it's all worth it. Some things that in vanilla JS are super simple, seem exceedingly complicated to do the Angular way.

Watched Bergman's The Virgin Spring and maybe decided Bergman just isn't for me? I don't know, I should rewatch Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, as I do recall liking those. This one was fine, but often felt really play-like. It had a small element of Norse mythology in it that felt unresolved.

We watched Easy Living (1937) on Criterion last night, part of their Mitchell Leisen program, this one written by Preston Sturges (before he started directing his own movies). An amusing enough film about a woman who gets an expensive fur coat dropped on her head and then... ends up probably getting married to a rich banker's son. And looking it up now, I see it's based on a book by Vera Caspary, the same woman who wrote both Laura and Letter to Three Wives (which were both made into good movies).

Started watching Mariano LlinĂ¡s's La Flor this morning (as it's leaving Criterion this month). It's a 13 hour movie in 6 episodes, each of a different genre but using the same 4 lead actresses. We'll see how far I get into it, but I read reviews about it when it was first released, and it sounds quite intriguing.

Finished Lois McMaster Bujold's Paladin of Souls rather quickly this week (a few times I read 100+ pages in a sitting). It's a sequel of sorts to Curse of Chalion, featuring the same world/history but with secondary characters from the first one becoming primary in the second. I enjoyed it a lot more than the first one, it seemed more assured in the world and its theology/magic, the plot had a little more going for it. Also the protagonist was more interesting. It reminded me of Le Guin's Tehanu, as it also features a middle aged widow as a protagonist, not exactly common in fantasy fiction. In both cases that provides alternate perspectives on aspects of the world, and also removes a reliance on physical violent conflict as a staple of the drama.

Got the first dose of the covid vaccine Friday.

Ran a third session of our faux-Warhammer campaign. Parts of it felt anti-climactic, like I maybe should have pushed the danger/conflict a little more, but also sometimes it feels like that just draws out the inevitable. I don't know. I'm still re-finding my footing running a game and how to use less rules. At times I feel like I'm calling for rolls just so the players can roll some dice (I know they like rolling), rather than because I think it's necessary. I have to keep in mind the idea that it's only worthwhile if failure or a complication will be interesting for the game, rather than just making things not happen automatically. Or at least make sure there is something in place I can use to make a failure/complication interesting... Also, I could just ask the players for ideas when they fail a roll too, which I should try next time.

We finished the first little adventure (little, but it took 3 sessions) and have decided to continue playing, so I need to work up more ideas, maybe a few tables (or gather some tables I already have for easy reference). Trying to solicit ideas from the players about their characters that I can use as a springboard, something I have often failed at before. Sometimes I think that comes from a mismatch between what the players create as backstory and what is... part of the setting... or interesting as a group session. It's one thing to write a complicated backstory for your character, but it's hard to make an adventure from a backstory that is more personal history than... goals, desires, hanging threads, etc.

2021-05-08 03:11

Continuing coding work, I keep making improvements to the RPG Table Randomizer and am making progress on the web version of Hadleyville. It does take a lot of extra time to learn how to do just about anything in Angular, but progress continues.

Read Natsume Soseki's The Gate this week. In its domestic setting and general lack of high drama it was quite reminiscent to me of Ozu films and Kawabata's Sound of the Mountain (both of which were of course later than Soseki and likely influenced by him), which is to say, I really enjoyed it. Even compared to Ozu there is a lack of drama in the novel. There is a lingering sense of tension over a few problems but interestingly none of them really go anywhere. An issue with the protagonist's younger brother and money problems is resolved quietly, as almost an afterthought. The wife seems very sick at one point and then gets better with no real drama. The protagonist is a very passive civil servant (though we hear almost nothing of his job) who most of the time can't seem to be bothered to do much of anything, though late in the book he takes a retreat to a Rinzai Zen monastery, a retreat which he seems to totally fail at, returning home feeling worse than when he left. Yet somehow, I enjoyed it quite a lot. I even pulled out another Soseki novel I have to reread.

I've been also reading this year's volume of The Complete Crepax, which also finds the protagonist in rather less dramatic situations than previous volumes. Crepax seems almost unconcerned with much in the way of plot in some of them, yet his drawings skills in these (from the mid-late 80s) are stupendous, at times scratchy, minimal, and fragmented. I continue to be a bit annoyed with Fantagraphics decision to not be completely chronological in the order of the Valentina stories. This one has stories and that both preceed and follow the longest/last episode from the previous volume which makes for a weird gap of a few years a few stories in. Someday I'll have to go back and try to reread them all in publication order (if I can figure that out, they don't always print that info, you just have to go by the year Crepax puts with his signature).

This paper has been floating around on my desk, notes for a poem that I never really wrote:

Sun on leaves lit up like a field of white flowers

I remember looking out my window into the park and the sun was shining down onto the greenery of the undergrowth. Maybe it was wet from some previous rain, or maybe it was just the way the light filtered through the leaves above, but it looked like the whole area was filled with white flowers. Only on a second look, with the light shifted, did I realize that was not at all the case.

2021-05-09 10:08

Watched Roy Andersson's About Endlessness this morning, a most interesting movie unlike any film I can think of. At a fairly short 70 minutes, it offers a series of brief vignettes. I believe there is only one series amongst the vignettes featuring the same protagonist and a few accompanying characters. The rest are one/offs in variety of registers from comic to tragic. Many of them (but not all) are accompanied by a voiceover of a woman saying something like "I saw a man ... who was lost" or "I saw a woman... who had a problem with her shoe." All the vignettes are setup with no camera movement and no cuts on scenes that have a strong sense of artificiality to them despite their (mostly) realistic settings. I get the impression Andersson tightly controls the settings, perhaps they are all constructed solely for the filming... There is very little movement in them, even people seem to only move on command, or in reaction to some other movement. There is some amount of cgi at work, though it is quite hard to tell how much, the constructed nature of the scenes and a general lighting that seems... unnatural, often gray, makes any cgi blend fairly seamlessly into the whole.

The overall tone is dark, a certain despair predominates, perhaps because that one recurring character is a priest who has lost his faith (and is highly distressed about it). But there are also brief comic moments, and a few joyful ones. In one we see the outside of a small restaurant. A group of young men sit at a table, a few other folks nearby, music plays over an unseen radio. Three young woman ride up on bicycles, dismount, and then, starting with one who urges on the others, begin to dance to the song (which sounds like an old big band tune). They dance. The song ends. The others in the scene clap. Scene over.

One scene shows two lovers (we know that because of the voiceover) in each other's arms floating in the sky over a ruined city. This is the only place I noticed camera movement, as the camera very slowly moved along its high vantage. This is also the most artifical of the vignettes, the actors are clearly inserted over the city which is clearly some form of model. Yet, that artificiality, that difference, works, because the scene itself is fantastic (and unexplained). A few other scenes stray from the more modern setting of the majority, all (I think) referencing back to World War II. (I'm not sure what to make of this connection, but I also know nothing about Sweden's involvement in that war.)

I don't totally know what to make of the whole thing. I enjoyed it. I found it a bit mystifying. I found it formally and visually engaging. I wonder if i missed something in it. A clearly important one of the vignettes, shows a young man and young woman sitting across from each other in a room (she on the bed, he in a chair). He is reading a textbook. He looks up and explains the first law of thermodynamics to here. Energy changes but is not destroyed. It is endless. That nod to the title (assuming the translations here are purposefully matching up the word), seems to speak to some connection.

2021-05-16 13:40

A whole week gone by... working... and working on my web project in the morning before work...

Read the new Trots and Bonnie collection by Shary Flenniken from NYRC and... it was fine. But for all the hype, it felt too much of it's time. The art was decent but unexciting, old comic strip style. The stories were amusing, but also felt very wrapped up in their moment.

After really enjoying The Gate I reread Soseki's The Three-Cornered World (known by it's untranslated title Kusamakura in the most recent translation). It's a quiet novel about a painter travelling in the country. He becomes fascinated by the daughter at the house he stays at. Very little happens as far as plot goes. I don't even know how to explain what the draw is. It's almost a pastoral... you expect some drama to happen, but nothing ever really does.

The new Mass Effect Legendary Edition remaster of the trilogy came out Friday so that has taken my attention this weekend. Despite it being, at it's heart, an over the shoulder shooting game, it's one of my absolute favorite series because the world building, the narrative, and especially the characters are so well done. It really does feel like a long interactive sci-fi novel. This is probably my fourth time playing through the series, and I'm still enthralled by it, despite the occasional parts that are a slog (mostly in the first one, driving the stupid vehicle around planets). What I find interesting though is I can't seem to play it... differently... The game tracks your actions on a scale of "paragon" and "renegade", and I always end up going heavily paragon. There are lots of npcs you can take with you as you run around, yet I always end up using the same 2 or 3 of them.

Not feeling great today, maybe just too much coffee this morning... or the heat in my office... or something I ate... making me feel like I can't accomplish anything. I should sit outside and read.

2021-05-24 08:21

Once you get out of the habit...

Lots more work on my Hadleyville online version. I'm learning about Angular and not particularly liking it. I have the main parts in place (town, npcs, notes, tables) and you can save to local storage, and the layout is coming along. Need to clean up the UI a good bit and maybe I can then call it a 1.0. Would like to experiment a little with some kind of cloud storage solution for saving the data, something that won't require me to install a lot of server-side code/programs.

Finished up the first Mass Effect in the new edition, in the end, it's the one that is least interesting as a game. The side missions really suffer from repetition of concept and environments (you always knows the layouts of every place you go inside). I think I recall it as better than it is, because of how better the subsequent two are. Looking forward to the second one, we'll see if I just jump right into it or hold off a bit.

We played our regular game yesterday, third session now in the new campaign. This one was basically the extended version of "you get to town, find an inn to stay at for the night, the night passes." Lots of interactions with the locals, and finding our way into some kind of mystery by way of talking to too many people. Finding out my character is not very nice, being run on the "haughty sorceress" model, which hopefully will not end up annoying everyone else. I enjoy it, though.

Rewatched Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels last night which is interestingly both a didactic movie and a critique of same. The director protagonist ends up abandoning his idea about making a serious meaningful film in favor of comedies that make people laugh, but Sturges' film itself is both, focusing in (rather naively I'd say) on poverty and homelessness during the Depression, but also being a funny comedy.

Reading The High Book of the Grail which is a translation by Nigel Bryant of the 13th century Arthurian Perlesvaus. I read about it in Steven Moore's The Novel: An Alternative History and it sounded interesting and kind of D&D-esque. Moore describes it:

The novel [The High Book of the Grail (Perlesvaus)] recounts the various adventures of Arthur and these knights, most of which are undertaken as affairs of honor. Any knight asked by a maiden to right a wrong done to her -- and this novel is thick with wronged maidens -- is duty-bound to help her, at the expense of whatever personal quest he may be on. Invariably, such assistance leads to further complications, for a dastardly knight killed for his wrongdoings usually has a wife or son now obliged to avenge his death, which leads to further encounters. Consequently, adventures don't simply follow one another but are linked, as in Icelandic sagas; the novel's events are not just sequential but consequential. The author masterfully juggles all these linked events while maintaining the overarching quests for the Grail that each knight is engaged on, suspending one narrative strand to pick up another, then returning to an earlier one in a dazzling feat of narrative engineering.

The adventures themselves are often ritualized and ceremonial, rich in symbolism, all taking place in a land of enchantment.

Which sounds very much like the "emergent narrative" of a D&D game where the actions of characters end up creating the subsequent (consequent) events.

While the book follows a general Arthurian romance pattern (questing knights, tournaments, hermits, castles, maidens, Christianity, etc.) there are also a bevy of supremely weird additions. In one section we learn that Arthur's son, Loholt (who I have never heard of before) "had a strange custom: whenever he killed a man he would sleep on top of him..." Say what? We never learn more about the whys or wherefores of that.

At one point Perlesvaus (who I guess is a version of Perceval), captures the lord who has been trying to steal Perlesvaus' mother's kingdom. To execute the man, he beheads all the lord's knights (that he also captured), collects their blood in large vat, and then drowns the lord upsidedown in the blood... ??? That's... something... It's not usually that weird or violent.

Yesterday, I dug up this plant that keeps sprouting where our new grass is. I guess it is something that was growing there, that didn't get totally pulled out when the grass was put in. It's come back twice now with these tall straight romaine lettuce looking sprouts. It ended up having a big white root the size of a softball just below the grass... I couldn't believe how big it was. Really wish I were better at identifying all these plants, as I'm curious what they all are as I go about weeding. Though, it is already starting to feel so futile as more and more sprout up. I just can't keep up. I guess that's what people turn to weed killers. Probably be better if we had more plants filling the beds that we wanted to keep around.

2021-05-29 10:04

Got my second dose of the vaccine on Wednesday, which heralds some slight normalcy in the near future, like seeing my parents, having in person D&D sessions again, and just generally feeling better going places out of the house (looking forward to getting my first professional haircut in over a year).

Been watching Doom Patrol on HBO, which is a pretty amusing and weird superhero show. At times it is probably too actively working against the tropes and is a little too wink-wink-nod-nod metafictional in a way that feels a little out of date to me. I'm not familiar enough with the comic to say how much the show is just rewriting Grant Morrison's work. I suspect there has to be a certain amount of that going on. It is a fun show, that mostly keeps surprising with its oddity and twists.

Somehow drifted into a sense of reading nostalgia recently, considering rereading comics that I read and enjoyed long ago. Was even considering reading some old X-Men comics which was one of the first comic series I ever read (and one of the few superhero series I stuck with for a pretty long period of time), but in the end, I've been down that road before and it won't have that same interest. I don't even know what brought on the idea. It's this endless shuffling of things to read and look at, a surfeit of them that too often disappoint. I did pick up Shirow's Dominion manga, that I still have on the shelf (with a bunch of his other works), and found it amusing, and in some ways still rather contemporary. The future world in it is so polluted people have to wear masks outside, and the protagonists are the "tank police" who are clearly over-militarized and constantly causing destruction in their city and having everyone complain and protest about them. I think Shirow is playing it off more as a joke, he is too invested in military tech as a subject, but it is also not a topic that is absent from the story.

Started in on Mass Effect 2 which is a lot more satisfying than the first one on most every level from narrative to gameplay. They really do throw in a ton of worldbuilding, often to little practical usage for the plot, which I quite like. It's makes the world seem more described than it really is, if you just hint at events, people, and places going on outside the range of the main plot.

It is cold and dark today, giving me a sense of ennui that I need to shake. Running another session of the faux Warhammer campaign tonight. Through a mix of random generation and creative elaboration I've come up with some kind of situation to put the player characters in. We'll see if it leads to... fun... I'm still not ever confident that I have prepped enough or in the right places, even though I know how slow the sessions tend to move and how little I usually actually need to have prepared for any 2 hour session. Hell, I know I could just show up and be like "sorry, I'm not prepared" and the four of us could just chat for 2 hours about game stuff and it would be fine. If I got stuck I'm going to try drawing a tarot card. I have this set of ones by Barbara Walker that are both really interesting imagery but also have single word interpretations written on them, so like the "Seven of Pentacles" card also has "Failure" written on it. It's a pretty great source of prompts that I really want to make use of. In the end I feel like my preparation issue always is one of organization. I have all the materials I need, but I don't have them all easily at hand. That's partly what my Hadleyville game is all about (and especially the online version), trying to get all the basic materials in one place and easily accessible for when you need them.