Chapter 211: Coming Together

on April 25, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 6: Career Counseling, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Reaches Out

Our next meeting began with Acantha handing us each a quartz sphere with a copy of the project so far on it. Things both sped up and slowed down for our little project after that. They slowed down in that we had full meetings less frequently… which was kind of a relief after having had so many in such rapid sucession… but they sped up in that we were now spending our own time on the thing.

In some cases… like mine… it was a lot of time. I didn’t really mind, though, because I wasn’t being compelled to give up my free time. The project itself was compelling enough.

My efforts to design units from scratch mostly went nowhere, and they took the long way of getting there, taking a lot of energy and patience with them when they went. There really was a skill to it, and I didn’t have it. I was pretty good at coming up with designs that looked interesting enough as a two-dimensional image in my head, but trying to extrapolate them into a three dimensional pseudo-object apparently required some knack that I lacked. The best of my outfits looked really cool from exactly one angle.

Why did I keep taking a stab at it? Mostly because it was compelling. There was just enough promise in my results that no matter how discouraged I was at the end of a bout of wrestling with the thing, it wouldn’t be long before I convinced myself that I’d figured out what I’d done wrong.

The time I spent playing designer might not have been entirely wasted time… if nothing else, it could be called market research into the appeal of the product… but I did try to spend more time working in areas where I could contribute more. The enchantments wrapped into the orb were self-sustaining, but not locked down. They were meant to be messed with, and mess with them I did.

Picking apart enchantments to see how they worked had always been one of my favorite things, and while Wisdom had layered all kinds of bindings I’d never seen around spells that were far outside my area of expertise, it didn’t take long for me to have a basic understanding of how most of it interacted, and it didn’t take long after that before I was able to manipulate it.

Mind you, I did manage to break the entire thing a couple of three or four times or so. I mean the enchantment matrix, not the sphere. I only broke my sphere twice. I wasn’t the only one who managed to corrupt or mangle the spells into an unusable state, but I never had to show up at the meetings with a non-functioning orb… except the times when I physically broke it… because it was easy enough to get a clean version from Andreas, who was a bit more conservative in his efforts.

I ended up doing a lot of my work with Andreas. Our group had mostly kept to the three teams that we’d established, and we’d also sort of organized ourselves into sub-projects. Because I was working from the point of view of someone who didn’t have a lot of knowledge of the game or the chops to make high-quality images myself, I focused mostly on the interface, from the point of view ofa newbie. I came up with what I thought would be useful features for guiding people in and warding off frustration and I’d sort of… hack them out.

Due to my inexperience, I’d usually end up with something that basically did what I wanted it to do, or at least conveyed the general idea, but may or may not have been the most efficient or stable way of doing it. Then Andreas would take what I’d done and integrate it a little more cleanly with the rest of the stuff.

He was apologetic about it at first, even though it was something that clearly needed to be done… if only so I didn’t have to hunt him up to copy his sphere over mine as often. Really, though, he was doing me a favor. My own efforts may have been described as inspired in some cases, but that didn’t mean the execution wouldn’t have embarassed me if I’d had to show it to a room full of more experienced enchanters without his revisions.

“Elegance in simplicity and stability,” was how he described his approach to enchantment. “We make the soldiers from a single stone because a stone made of two pieces is already cracked. A well-made enchantment should be the same.”

While his approach was certainly elegant… for a peculiarly dwarven value of elegance… on the inside, it took Wisdom’s artistic skills to make what we did look elegant from the outside.

Sapphire’s team had homed in on the need to link the free-floating illusions we were creating to the actual physical figures much quicker than anyone else had. Their first sort of proof of concept effort was workable, though klunky. After a few pointers from Acantha, they ended up with something very similar to a mockbox in the principles of its operation: you put a figure or figures in a box attached to a pedestal, set the crystal on it, and you had your apparently finished and fully-outfitted figures.

The fact that Sapphire and Micah had chosen to tackle this aspect was something far more practical than I would have expected out of either of them, but I probably should have realized they wouldn’t have been recruited for no reason.

Acantha’s team… with a lot of guidance from Memphis… seemed to be focused most strongly on actually integrating what we were doing with the demands of the game and the people who played it. They created visual stat blocks, rules references, point trackers and army builders, and added branding relating to the game.

This prompted the first really heated debate among the group since we began the project, because we had to agree on a name for a game that half the players called Stone Soldiers and the other half called Soldier Stones. Andreas was politely but firmly in favor of Soldier Stones, which he insisted was the proper name, but even within the league, the “official” name seemed slightly less common than the one that sounded more natural to Pax-speaking human ears.

Andreas’s appeals to authority didn’t go very far, because there was a surprising amount of resistance to the idea that the kobold who’d brought the game out of the warren in the first place should be recognized as an authority on its play. Acantha offered a pretty sound argument in favor of Soldier Stones that didn’t depend on any prior authority, though.

“The name ‘Stone Soldiers’ calls to mind tin soldiers, wooden soldiers, and other such toys,” she said. “Which is familiar, yes, but this familiarity can only hurt us if we want people to accept the notion of using blank or rough figures with illusion overlays. It tells them to expect… well… soldiers made out of stone. ‘Soldier Stones’, on the other hand, makes the stones themselves sound collectible. A stone soldier sounds like a finished product. A soldier stone sounds like a component.”

I thought it was a very persuasive point, but it wasn’t enough to quell the disagreement and she was still reluctant to claim any kind of direct control over the group. It was Wisdom who came up with the solution.

“What if we call it ‘Soldier Stones’, but we make the logo look something like this?” she asked, showing an image between her hands of the words written in a circle with a little stone knotwork thing in the space between the words… or the spaces, rather, because there was an identical and identically spaced mark at the end of each word. Which word came first depended entirely on where you started reading it… there were absolutely no visual or contextual clues.

“That has real possibilities,” Acantha said. “It needs something in the center, though.”

“Like a game piece?” Wisdom asked.

“I think we need something more abstract,” Acantha said. “Something with the potential to be more iconic. If we made it a soldier, the question would be: which one? What would it look like? Even making the choice seems limiting. A truly blank figure might work, but wouldn’t necessarily be gripping.”

“How about the name of the game in Kobol?” Andreas said. “It’s just twocharacters… I can sort of sketch them, but we could find better examples easily enough. You could make them carved into a piece of stone, or made out of stone. If you do that, I’m… well, I’m as sure as I can be that you could get the league to adopt this logo as their own.”

“That would almost be as good as an official endorsement,” Acantha said. “If no one objects, we’ll start working this symbol in and we can see how the group feels about it at the next meeting.”

This was her method for settling a lot of the low-grade conflicts that came up: deferring it to later while endorsing a tacit course of action. Often, the people who cared enough to fight tooth and nail about something in the abstract would just go with the flow when it came up later in a more concrete form, if only because there was something new to argue about.

In this way, our project came together… while we’d mostly settled the problem of what to call the game, we were still just calling the thing as a whole “our project”. When the question of a name was raised, Acantha’s response was to say that if anyone had a brilliant idea or even just one they felt the need to throw out there, we’d entertain it, but it would be a mistake in her mind to devote a lot of time to brainstorming a name when we could be working on the thing.

“The name will be important, don’t get me wrong,” she said. “But if we make naming it a priority, we might find ourselves altering our development to suit the name rather than finding a name that suits what we develop. I’ve seen projects that literally started with someone higher up saying, ‘Figure out what we could make that would be called x‘… none of them were what you would call gamechangers, and none of them proved to be worth my time.”

While each team had its own self-defined area of responsibility, the boundaries were pretty fluid. Acantha and Wisdom ended up conferring together a lot about the visual style of the interface, and they similarly consulted with Sapphire’s group to make sure that there was some consistency with how things manifested outside the box.

And while no team had dedicated itself to turning out unit designs and uniform pieces, that happened anyway. I wasn’t the only one who found using the interface for design a compelling pasttime, and there were plenty of people in the group who had more artistic talent and temperament than I did. We ended up with a good assortment of finished units and starter gear to mix and match… although as time went on and the project a whole took on a more consistent and polished look, I started to feel like it was more assorted than good.

It took me a while to figure out what exactly was bothering me, because it wasn’t a matter of quality. As a group we were pretty amicable about sorting the content into piles of definitely include, maybe, and possibly for personal use only. There were some disagreements about what constituted quality and where the cut-off for it should be, but that was why the maybe pile existed.

It was listening to Professor Stone in class that helped me crystalize what I was feeling, and even then it took me a couple of days of thinking about it to come up with a solution… I’d decided I didn’t want to throw up an objection that would devalue so much of the work everyone had put in unless I had a plan of action in mind to fix it.

“As good as all of this stuff is, I think we need a more unified design aesthetic,” I said at the next meeting, when we turned our attention towards the illusionary pieces we’d amassed.

“You’re just saying buzzwords,” Micah said.

“The reason some people are able to get away with saying buzzwords is that they sound like something intelligent or insightful,” Acantha said. “And the reason they sound like that is that sometimes they are. Mackenzie, would you like to elaborate?”

“Um… sure,” I said, trying to call to mind the arguments I’d laid out in my head before the meeting. “As much as the appeal of this is going to be personalization and customization, we really should be… I mean, I think the problem that we have right now is that if you fielded twenty different armies with units from our project, they’d look like they belonged to twenty different games. It’s not going to look… right.”

Okay, that wasn’t anywhere near as articulate as I’d aimed for.

“Is that any different from how things are now?” Memphis asked. “Different artists have their own styles, and different people have their own preferences.”

“And isn’t it good if everyone’s army looks different?” Sapphire asked. “I mean, that’s the point, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, but, it’s one thing to have all this differentiation among masses of unpainted stones and another thing to have them in vivid, living color,” I said. Weirdly, having people arguing against my points made it easier for them to coalesce in my head. “Having different uniforms and insignia and all that should be enough to tell two armies apart at a glance. If we have to rely on the obvious artistic difference from different creators to differentiate armies… well, that seems like a bit of a failure to me. And it would also lock people into only using content created by one person. No mixing and matching, no remixing uniform pieces from different sets into a new one…”

“These are all excellent points,” Acantha said. “I don’t imagine you’re suggesting we throw out all the content we’ve created so far and start again with a single artist at this late a stage, though.”

“No, I’m really not,” I said. “What I think we need is an artistic director, of sorts. Someone who can go through what we’ve made, and come up with a more uniform… no pun intended… design, and either re-work what’s there or issue guidelines for people who want to re-do their own. This would also help settle the maybe pile, because of endlessly debating all the edge cases, we’d have one person who would have the authority to make the decision.”

“Do you have someone in mind?” Acantha asked.

“I do, actually,” I said. I’d given this a lot of thought. I could tell by the looks in some of the others’ eyes… mostly Sapphire and Micah… that they were assuming I’d name myself, but I knew that this was way outside my skillset. “In order to not pull anyone off from what they’re doing… and keep it kind of fair and impartial… I think we need to make this an outside hire, so to speak. I know that means another division of the proceeds, so this is something we’ll all have to agree on, but I think the benefits will outweigh the cost, and at this point I think we’re all pretty confident that there will be proceeds… I think anything that makes the finished product more professional-looking will only increase that.”

“Sound reasoning, but you haven’t told us who you’re thinking of,” Acantha said.

“Sorry, I wanted to make my case for going outside the group before I made my case for the specific candidate,” I said. I had given this a lot of thought.

The obvious solution had been to enlist one of my friends, which would not only allow me to share the wealth but would help relieve the burden of secrecy by moving one person from the category of being desperately curious about what I was up to and into the category of someone I could talk to about it.

While thathad been the first idea to pop into my head, it hadn’t taken me long to move past it. Steff definitely had the artistic chops, although I’d never seen her doing the kind of envisioning we were doing and if I was completely honest, I didn’t think she had the discipline for what we were doing.

Nicki was interested in design, and I really would have loved another reason to hang out with her, especially since her love life and my work life had really cut into our time together. But the only credentials I knew of was that she did her own hair and face glamours and she was in the same entry level, fairly fluffy design class that I was. She might have been a fully qualified choice, but the only real reason I would have picked her for the group was that she was my friend andI wanted to get her in on this… and that wasn’t something I could justify.

Thinking about Nicki had put me on the track of the perfect candidate, though, as I’d met her in Professor Stone’s class.

“There’s a girl in my design class,” I said. “Her name is Twyla Jenkins.”

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28 Responses to “Chapter 211: Coming Together”

  1. Order of Chaos says:

    While thathad been the first idea to pop into my head, it hadn’t taken me long to move past it.

    but the only real reason I would have picked her for the group was that she was my friend andI wanted to get her in on this

    Need a space for “thathad” and “andI”

    It looks like we are going to get more Twyla, this is good for a number of reasons.

    AE not meant as a complaint but if Friday is the new update day the “Updates Wednesdays” on the home page needs updating.

    Current score: 1
    • x says:

      More missing spaces:


      Not sure if this is intended:
      “a couple of three or four times or so” – “a couple or”?

      Current score: 0
      • Lunaroki says:

        As x says, “pasttime” is incorrect. I thought it was “passtime”, but when I looked it up it says that the correct spelling is “pastime”, with only 1 “s” and 1 “t”.

        Typo Report

        although as time went on and the project * a whole took on a more consistent and polished look,

        Missing an “as” between “project” and “a whole”.

        This would also help settle the maybe pile, because * of endlessly debating all the edge cases, we’d have one person who would have the authority to make the decision.”

        Seems to be missing “instead” between “because” and “of endlessly debating”.

        Current score: 0
  2. Ilya says:

    Anyone remember if Twyla was shown anywhere as professional designer?
    Until the last line I was sure Mack talks about Professor Stone himself…

    Current score: 0
    • adffda says:

      i think all we’d seen was the angel mac found in the computer lab and printed out for her?

      Current score: 2
  3. Grant says:

    Mack has witnessed her drawing in the past. No djin in the group so Twyla should be a good fit.

    Current score: 0
  4. Dani says:

    I’ve figured out how this is going to end. It’s horriblehorriblehorrible! It’ll turn out that Acantha is secretly an Educator who is running this project to test a theory of pedagogy, and who is paying the expenses with grant money!

    Oh, the profits? The project will make a lot of money, but it’ll also turn out that there’s a university policy that grants MU 95% ownership of student and faculty projects conducted on university grounds, so the team will split the other 5% of the profits. That’s why they call it a learning experience.

    Am I close? 🙂

    Current score: 3
    • adsipowe says:

      that 5% bit is definitely going to happen. university is bad enough with claiming things like that anyway, but this one has a literal dragon running things.

      Current score: 1
    • TogashiSoka says:

      You forgot that Acantha swiped the Mockbox secrets from Callahan and she is going to mock an army of free labor to saturate/dominate the market with round-the-clock product. She’ll mock a few hundred Macks just to power the project!

      Current score: 0
      • zeel says:

        That wouldn’t work. The mocked Mackenzies would only be able to do phantasmal magic. The effects would be lost when the mockeries expired.

        Current score: 0
  5. Brenda A. says:

    I enjoyed seeing things come together more in this, but I really was disappointed that we didn’t get to sit in on Professor Stone’s class.

    Twyla! I was vaguely expecting it to be Sooni, but this should be fun!

    Current score: 1
    • Mian says:

      Sooni is bad at working in groups. of any sort at all.
      Glad it’s not her.

      Current score: 0
  6. Potatohead says:

    I was going to guess Two, since she’s all about consistency. But she’s not a design major, on reflection not a good choice.

    Current score: 0
    • not her, the other girl says:

      I can just imagine all the military stuff (uniforms, standards, etc.) with sparkly butterflies on them.

      Current score: 3
  7. pedestrian says:

    Acantha is bold.
    Her business plan
    is stone cold.

    Humans and Demon,
    Elves and Dwarfs,
    students dream on.

    With Our Mackenzie
    ideas abound
    as she works in a frenzy!

    Art for Arts sake.
    Or, should One
    the Gold, take?

    Do you ken?
    a Djinn can.

    Current score: 1
    • Lunaroki says:

      As haiku, the pattern of 5-7-5 is horribly mangled all around. As poetry in general though, I like. 🙂

      Current score: 0
  8. Zathras IX says:

    Elegance is much
    More than mere simplicity
    And stability

    Current score: 1
  9. Glenn says:

    I wonder if Mack and Twyla becoming closer will somehow help advance Mack’s father’s plans. Back in Chapter 42, the Man appeared in Mack’s dream after months of absence to suggest that she become friends with Twyla, just after Mack learned of Twyla’s Ifrit heritage. Perhaps the Man suspects he knows who Twyla’s Ifrit ancestors are, and thinks it would help him if Mack eventually got involved with them.
    I’m also wondering if the detailed illusions Acantha and the other members of the group are developing could be projected onto the illusionary persons created by Callahan’s mockbox’s. Completely identical people in Mack’s world try to kill each other. Callahan’s mockbox gets around this problem by slightly altering the appearance of the illusionary duplicates it creates. But if Acantha could find a way to easily change the appearance of the duplicates so that they match the original and each other, it could ruin Callahan’s plans to use the illusionary duplicates in warfare, by making the duplicates try to kill each other and their original, rather than the enemy.

    Current score: 0
  10. Helge says:

    No way am I about to try and guess where this is headed! Nice cliff hanger!

    Current score: 1
    • Ha! I love this comment, because I was *verrrrrry* close to ending the chapter before she said the name, and I thought I would be nice and not have a cliffhanger. I guess every ending is potentially one.

      Current score: 0
  11. AndR says:

    I can’t visualize that logo: ‘Soldier Stones’ and ‘Stone Soldiers’ have the double s in a different place, there’s no way to put them in a circle so that it can be read either way.

    I guess you could go for the singular form

    Current score: 4
    • Anvildude says:

      Possibly they share the “S” at the front of each word, and that ends up being the “S” at the end of the word that needs it?

      Current score: 1
    • Dang, my lousy visualization skills failed me again. I’ll amend the description after the next chapter goes up.

      Current score: 0
  12. Mo says:

    Ohhhh I think I know where this is going. Fingers crossed.

    Current score: 0
    • Readaholic says:

      Me, I have no idea. But I like it! These last few episodes have managed to combine world-building *and* character development. I like how Mack’s confidence shows her with some management abilities. It’s wonderful to read and compare this with her start at MU.

      Current score: 0
  13. Cadnawes says:

    Waaaay back in the day I suggested that if money or credit could be had, that Acantha would take them. I’ve known too many college profs in my time who usually do just that. But that isn’t the biggest problem here. The mockbox is back.

    Current score: 1
  14. Joshua says:

    As soon as I noticed the language being called Kobol, I realized why we have so many computers running clunky old languages: Kobol programmers!

    Current score: 0