Game Review: Burrito Bison; Launcha Libre

Originally this was going to be part of a recommendation dump post, but as I wrote about this game, I realized I just have a lot to say about it. Enough to be a post in itself. So, here we go:

Burrito Bison: Launcha Libre is a launcher game from Juicy Beast. You play as a luchador who’s fighting various candy-people (primarily gummy bears) and trying to get a recipe book? I think? It’s been awhile since I’ve watched that opening cutscene, but it hasn’t been any time at all since I last played this game. I’ve been playing it, off and on, for about three months. It’s been my go-to game when I want to listen to music or a podcast or just totally zone-out.

The perfect, addictive core of this game is one that Juicy Beast had been doing a great job with since the first Burrito Bison game (Launcha Libre is the third in a series, and the first two are considerably smaller in scale, but still a lot of fun)—the balance between player input and the flow of the game. If the game relied too much on player input, or relied on more complex player input, it wouldn’t really be a launcher game, and it would be impossible to zone out to it. If the game eschewed player input too much, it would be a lot like most bad launcher games, with too much relying on variance and some lucky bounces to get you far. Some launcher games you can look away from and really not change the experience. Some launcher games it feels like you’re better off not using any of your power-ups or controls, and just hoping to land on a bomb or a bouncy mushroom or whatever it is that will keep you in the air. Burrito Bison is right at the crest of this wave, riding it perfectly, just between falling forward into boredom or falling backward into over-taxation of the brain.

Burrito Bison riding a popped Prickly Pair

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Recommendation Dump, April 2017

It’s been a while since I did one of these, huh? Well, I’ve got some stuff to recommend, so I’m doing another one—here we go!

Democrats — Democrats is a documentary detailing the creation a new Zimbabwean constitution from 2009-2013, and especially the negotiations between the chief negotiators for the incumbent and the opposition party—Paul Mangwana and Douglas Mwonzora respectively. The film is phenomenal.

The documentary is presented with little editorializing, no retrospective interviews, and only occasional clips from news broadcasts to provide summary. The meat of it is incredibly candid interactions between party members and footage of the actual negotiation process. When I say incredibly candid, I mean that at one point Mangwana and another party official are openly talking about the fact that ZANU-PF—their party, the party of President Mugabe—has been bussing in party supporters to local meetings that they shouldn’t be a part of. The two are laughing, the official saying, “We can’t control that,” and Mangwana saying, “No, that’s ZANU-PF at work.”Read More »

Political Analysis: The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Now for a classic of political analysis—the prisoner’s dilemma.

“Rational individuals select actions to achieve their most preferred outcomes. If two rational individuals can do better by acting collectively, then they will do so, because they are rational.”

Annnnh! Wrong! That is the rock pile method, and it’s false, and we can see this with the prisoner’s dilemma.

A lot of people teach the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and a lot of them get it wrong. “If you’ve heard of it or had a class that covered it, get a lobotomy to eliminate that part of the brain,” says Professor Dion.

I’ll get to some misconceptions in a moment, but first, here’s the story of the prisoner’s dilemma: two accomplices in a crime are taken in for questioning. The police have enough to convict the two on a small charge, but they want to get them on this bigger crime. The two criminals are separated, and each is offered a deal—rat on the other guy (“defect”) and you’ll get to walk free, and the other guy will get a really harsh sentence. They’re also told that this deal is being presented to both of them. What ends up happening? They both defect, of course. If they expect the other person to say nothing (to “cooperate”), it’s best to defect, because then they’ll walk free. And if they expect the other person to rat on them, it’s also best to defect, because while they’ll still get a harsh sentence, it won’t be as harsh, because it’s split between them.

So, here’s the Canonical prisoner’s dilemma, shown as a normal-form game.

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Recommendation Dump, May 2016

Here are things I like.

Skeleton Gardens – Just a simple Ludum Dare game, but one with a really unique look and feel. You play as some sort of reaper, planting trees which grow skeletons warriors, as well as seeds to plant more trees. To ensure that the trees grow to maturity, you have to protect them from waves of knights attacking you. All of the trees appear to be randomly generated, as do the walls you can build and the special, massively destructive attack, all of them forming gnarly fractal patterns. Another fun thing about the game is that it always ends overwhelmingly—either you become overwhelmingly powerful, with hundreds of trees begetting hundreds more (and you get bored and close the game or let yourself die), or you’re crushed under an enormous onslaught of knights. I guess there’s something cathartic in that. There’s no cheap or meaningless death. The music is real fun too.

Politics Politics Politics – Of all the podcasts I listen to, this is the only one that’s pretty much a one-man show. Justin Robert Young, the host of Politicsx3, occasionally has on guests, but for the most part it’s just him—and he does a fantastic job. The content of the show is evident in the title. Politics, man. Specifically the 2016 US presidential elections. But it’s not a podcast about ideology, or policy, or anything like that. In Justin’s own words, from Episode 0 of the podcast,

“I was the only motherfucker in South Plantation High School who rolled in with the Kenneth Star report … this story perfectly encapsulates why I’m doing this show, why I love politics … I was not reading it because I thought Bill Clinton should be exonerated. I was not reading it because I thought Bill Clinton should be thrown out of the White House. I was reading it because they printed a bunch of shit about a dude getting his dick sucked, in the newspaper! … It is only politics … that has that carte blanche.”

And that’s what makes the show fantastic. Justin is incredibly energetic, and his love of the political game is always on full display. He’s also quite knowledgable about politics, and does a great job of analyzing the strategies of each candidate. The most recent episode came out yesterday, covering the recent dropouts from the election, and the campaign to come. With the primaries (pretty much) over, now’s a great time to start listening. The show is fantastic, and I’m sure it’s only going to get better as we move into the general election.

“How a fluke video game called the Eternal War became a cultural phenomenon—and changed its creator” – I’d heard about The Eternal War awhile ago in a Kotaku article, and I went and looked it up again recently. That’s how I came across this article, which does a really good job describing the whole story of the game. If you’re a normal person and you don’t know what I mean when I say The Eternal War, it’s a Civilization II game that someone played on and off for ten years—well past the time when the game is supposed to end.

Normally, the Civilization games simulate the rise of civilizations, from 4000 BC to the current time—and one of the civilizations will reach a victory condition, and win by the year 2020. But the player can continue playing after this, and one player, James Moore, did—for ten years. In his game, the world became locked in an endless, bloody stalemate between three superpowers, thus giving it it’s name, The Eternal War. That should be enough to intrigue you to read the article, which has plenty more interesting details, about the life of James Moore, and about the community that grew around the game when he posted about it on Reddit. It’s a really cool story about the convergence of history, culture, and technology. Check it out.

Lonely and Horny – If you’ve never watched Jake and Amir, or listened to If I Were You, you should probably go do those things. If you have, it should come as no surprise that Lonely and Horny, the first creative work (that’s been released) from Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld since their webseries, Jake and Amir, ended a year or so ago, is hilarious.

The show, consisting of ten eight-to-ten-minute episodes, follows Ruby Jade, played by Amir Blumenfeld, who is enrolled in a hooking up class taught by Josh Rice, played by Jake Hurwitz. The episodes focus on this class and Ruby’s various attempts (and failures) to “close” with a girl. The show doesn’t have much of a story arc, though each episode does add more to the whole. The series feels like a thesis on being lonely and horny and pathetically desperate, and each episode fleshes out more of that, and more of Ruby Jade’s life and personality.

Amir’s performance is captivating. He walks a line between a crazy, exaggerated caricature and a real person with recognizable ticks and behaviors. That’s what makes the character, and the show, so funny. Underneath the over-the-top pick-up lines and sexism is a current of real insecurity—which makes the absurdity of the scenes even funnier. And of course, the scenes between Jake and Amir are dynamite.

The show is now available in its entirety on Vimeo, for $15—and you can watch the first episode free here.

Those were things I like, and hopefully you’ll like them too.

Political Analysis: Games

This post we’ll be talking about games—contrary to what people often say in dramas, this is a game.

An extensive-form game is a tree of decisions branching out, with actors forming the nodes in the branches, and the branches representing choices that the actors can make. The assumption is always that each actor is making rational choices, trying to get their best outcome, at every point.

To determine the outcome of an extensive-form game, you work from the ends backward to the beginning, using backwards induction. To demonstrate, here’s this game:

EFG-volunteerRead More »