Chapter 205: Mixed Media

on March 12, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 6: Career Counseling, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Ideas Come Together

I tried my best to not let my suspicion get in the way of having something to bring to the table Monday night. If I was going to be so focused on trying to figure out what Acantha’s game was that I wasn’t actually contributing to the project, I might as well not be a part of it to begin with.

But I hadn’t come up with much.

My brainstorming process had gone something like this: I spent ten or twenty minutes feeling intensely resentful of the fact that half the campus was proudly playing with miniatures while I still felt embarrassed too about my collection of toys to even unpack them. This turned into a potentially but probably not tangent when I started thinking about enchantments on figurines similar to the ones on enaction figures to give them added illusionary details or simple animation.

As ideas went, it was pretty cool. Having things like illusionary fireballs or self-moving pieces which might have been enough to get me interested in the game, but it would contribute to rather than solve the problem of figurines being scarce and requiring specialized skills to make. If it caught on, it would pretty much switch the model from one of personal creation or cottage industry to one of mass production.

And since it required mass production, it was also way beyond what we could do as essentially a small boutique enchanter group, working part time.

Still, I didn’t want to show up empty-handed, and it was the only thing I’d come up with. I did manage to improve the idea slightly before meeting time when I realized that the figures wouldn’t need to be enchanted… the effects could instead be housed in a separate item.

Producing that item would still be a tall order, but since only per player… really, one per game… would be required, we could maybe get by with making a prototype as a proof-of-concept to get the league interested, and then sell the idea, or get some pre-orders to finance outsourcing the actual manufacture.

It wasn’t necessarily a great, because it did nothing to address the need that was already present, but at least it didn’t make it raise the barriers to entry into the gam for individuals.

I really doubted it would be the direction we ended up going in or that it would pay off big if we did, but again… it was something.

I could tell our meeting on Monday marked a turning point in the project, because the catering had now been reduced to coffee and tea… and because of how Acantha was dressed when she came gliding into the lounge.

I wouldn’t have put my finger on it because she always wore tailored suits, but the ones she’d been wearing to her previous get-togethers had been darker colors and more stylishly cut. I didn’t have enough style to pull apart the specifics of the difference, only that they looked more like something you’d wear on a night on the town.

The suit she wore today was more obviously a business suit. Wearing it meant business. She also had a stackof slim binders in her arms. I shared a quick glance with Andreas, whose face betrayed very little. It looked like she’d come prepared.

“Hello, everyone,” Acantha said. “I hope you’ve all brought your best ideas with you. I had a few thoughts of my own, but they mainly concern things like project management and division of labor. Obviously specifics for how we approach this will have to wait until we know what we’re approaching, and my intention was to let someone else take charge and see who rises to the occasion… but… this sort of thing is my major area of expertise, and it would feel silly to hold back and hope the group coheres when I could be contributing directly to our success. Does anyone have any ideas to start us off with?”

There followed a bit of awkward not quite silence, as people shifted in their seats, coughed, and rustled papers.

“Well…” Sapphire said eventually. “I didn’t want to go first, but someone mentioned mockboxes in our first meeting. So I thought: why not mock the pieces? Put in one piece, get two… or twenty. Then all you need is a master piece… I mean, a master copy of a piece, not a masterpiece… and you’ve got all the copies you need for a match.”

“That might appeal to the neophyte, but the league would never accept it,” Memphis said. “They wouldn’t want to de-value handcrafted pieces in that fashion.”

“Do you believe that, or are you saying that because you make your living selling handcrafted pieces?” Wisdom asked.

“It’s not a living, it’s pocket money,” Memphis said. “And the reason they wouldn’t want to de-value such pieces is that they have all invested a significant amount of time and money in acquiring their armies. A superior army is an advantage in the game, no matter how much they talk about tactics winning the day. No one will throw away an advantage they paid money for.”

“That’s an excellent point,” Acantha said. “But anything that’s done to lower the barriers to entry will run into that same bias, so instead of thinking about how to avoid it, perhaps we should be considering how to soften it or mitigate it. The other problem, though is control: mockboxes aren’t a new idea. This would be a new use, but if mocked pieces became an acceptable element of the game, anyone with access to a mockbox could do it themselves. We’d have to sell people on the idea, and then sell them a product they wouldn’t actually need to buy from us.”

“We could, I don’t know, make official mockboxes,” Sapphire said.

“That would require an official endorsement,” Acantha said. “Andreas, what is the league’s feelings on mockeries?”

“Well… it’s been proposed, but shot down,” he said. “It’s like the elf says. And more than that, Shiel… she says it’s against the spirit of the game. That one way or another, you’re meant to ‘carve out’ your own army.”

“It’s worth considering that the definition of ‘carving out’ has already been expanded once,” Acantha said.

“Yes, but I don’t think that puts her in any bigger hurry to do it again,” Andreas said. “I understand where she’s coming from here, sortof… I mean, tradition’s important. You know?”

“Well, as we established last week, sooner or later someone’s going to move in with something,” she said. “If we vote your conscience and pass on the opportunity to expand the parameters of the game, all that means is we’ll miss the opportunity to be part of determining how that happens. Anyway, can we at least agree to not keep rehashing this point before we have a definite course of action in front of us?”

“Fair enough,” Andreas said. “But you asked me what the league’s feelings would be, and that’s the feeling at the top.”

“And it’s noted,” Acantha said. “Well, let’s try taking things in this direction, then: what are some ways we could expand the availability of figurines… possibly using phantasmal mockeries or other cheap duplications… while still leaving the element of ‘carving out’ that is so important to the game and not throwing open the floodgates to cheap, endless armies?”

“What about something modeled like a ‘recruitment center’ that only produces so many copies so often?” Micah said. “I was thinking like you’d put a block of soapstone in and it carves or transforms it into a piece over time? It could also work for a mockbox with limitations, though. And like Sapphire said, you would still need a master copy, whether it’s being mocked or permanently duplicated or whatever. Even if it’s built in, you’d still need an artist like Memphis to make the original.”

“That’s a thought,” Acantha said. “Full automation of an intricate carving process is probably beyond the scope of what we could produce, but there are other options. The fact that act of carving takes away material without adding any does open up some possibilities. And of course, if we could combine the idea with mockery, then we sidestep that problem… actually, we sidestep a lot of problems using a mockbox as the base, which by itself is a reason to keep it on the table. As I’ve noted before, we do not have access to manufacturing facilities ourselves… which makes a single product that can be used repeatedly, possibly by multiple people in the same group, something worth looking at.”

I unconsciously looked at the notepad where I’d scribbled down my thoughts… not that my thoughts were extensive or well-formed enough to require notes, but I’d wanted to have them with me in a tangible form to show my work.

“Mackenzie,” Acantha said. “You have some thoughts in that area?”

“Well… sort of,” I said. “It was less in the area of producing or replacing the figures and more in an area of enhancing the game. My thought was some kind of base item that can cast illusions or possibly limited animations over the figurines on the field, to make battles a little more… exciting?”

“Interesting thought,” she said. “What were you thinking? Waving weapons, sound effects?”

“Things like that,” I said. “Or spells… I mean, I don’t make a habit of watching the game, but one person says they’re casting a fireball volley and then they pull out protractors to figure out who’s caught in the radius?”

“We mostly eyeball it, except when it’s borderline,” Andreas said. “We have enough spotters who are solid judges of distance at that scale.”

“Okay, but still… wouldn’t it be better to actually see the fireball? I don’t just mean from an accuracy standpoint,” I said.

“It’s a promising idea,” Acantha said.

“But it doesn’t make the game accessible,” I said. “If anything, it might slow down the demand for the game since to play it properly a group would need at least one of these devices.”

“Or it might draw in more spectators faster and make them more eager to become part of it,” Acantha said. “It’s hard to predict how that kind of thing will go… which is why it would be a gamble. Still, layering illusions isn’t that difficult, and since a phantasmal object is a coherent illusion, this idea could be combined with the mockbox one.”

“What about… regalia?” Memphis said. “As illusionary overlays, I mean. Uniforms, standards, coats-of-arms. I could make figures faster, but the people who are willing to pay the most want them personalized. They want their army’s insignia on the shield. They want custom armor and weapons. I rough out several standard figures in advance, but I can only ‘rough’ so far since it’s easier to remove stone than add it, and there’s an evolving preference that each figure be made of one solid stone.”

“Adding stone back is easy enough, if you have the knack for it,” Andreas said.

“Yes, well, if the medium were wood, I’d have no problems at all,” Memphis said.

“If we could focus?” Acantha said. “I think we’re starting to come together. With or without the inclusion of a mockbox for easy figure duplication, if we created a way of throwing illusionary shells over standard figures, we could shift the preference from highly-detailed personalized figures to ones following a simpler model, which would be quicker and easier to produce without losing the handmade aspect.”

“There is still art involved in weaving illusions,” Wisdom said. “Possibly as much or more than there would be in sculpting the stone, since I assume we would be including things like color, even if the images are static. If they’re moving, we are definitely increasing the amount of artistry needed.”

“The way I see it, that’s both pro and con,” Acantha said. “It’s a con because it detracts from the cheap-and-easy, but it’s a pro because it allows us to keep the focus on craftsmanship. And even if the stone figures themselves are still individually produced, the illusionary overlays needn’t be. Each could be a tiny work of art in itself… and if we elves in the room can collectively relax our standards, the tininess will work in our favor… but it needn’t be created from scratch each time, like the figures would.”

“I don’t want to keep pushing the mockbox,” Sapphire said, “but if the figures are made from scratch each time, the illusions would have to be adjusted. I mean, we can talk about ‘standard figures’, but how standard is standard?”

“Illusions can be designed with a number of attachment points,” Wisdom said. “Otherwise an illusionary outfit wouldn’t move with your body, unless it were solid like a mockery or being consciously and continuously directed. But it is a point worth considering.”

“You know a lot about illusion,” I said.

“Well, I should,” she said. “I’m an applied enchanter, but illusion is my medium.”

I glanced at Andreas, who didn’t glance back this time. Maybe it hadn’t struck him as significant. It was hard to say why it stood out to me. If we did end up selling an item that could create illusionary dressings for miniature soldiers, having an illusion artist would be really convenient… but as much as Acantha was moderating the conversation, I really couldn’t say that she’d led us here.

“As I said earlier, the mockbox approach has a lot to recommend it,” Acantha said. “I understand that there’s going to be a certain amount of resistance to it, and I even understand why. But using it would open up so many more possibilities… for us and for the game… than ignoring it would. So I’d like tomake a general proposition: if we can agree that dressing the game up with illusions is the idea we want to explore, then we can start working on the pros and cons of doing it through a mockbox versus another item.”

No one had an objection to offer to this. About half the group was in favor of it on the grounds that it sort of incorpoated all our ideas, and the other half hadn’t brought anything they felt comfortable putting forward.

“Alright, so l think for our next meeting, we should be looking at what we can do,” Acantha said.

“Wait, are we breaking things up already?” Memphis asked.

“Until tomorrow night,” Acantha said. “I was going to ask if you would mind bringing in some of your roughs so we can figure out how much detail an illusion would actually need to look credible, and how portable we can make them between different poses or sizes of figures without sacrificing simplicity. Everyone else can be thinking about how we might approach the issue of duplicating figures in a way that honors the game… if it can’t be done, it can’t be done, but the advantages are substantial enough that time spent exploring the possibility won’t be wasted even if it goes nowhere.”

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33 Responses to “Chapter 205: Mixed Media”

  1. Celti says:

    Awh, and here I was hoping Dee’s example of moving armies telekinetically way back when would inspire armies that move on command.

    Current score: 4
  2. Order of Chaos says:

    while I still felt embarrassed too about my collection
    Should that be “too embarrassed”? also I think I saw a gam that should be game.

    Current score: 0
    • x says:

      Having things like illusionary fireballs or self-moving pieces which might have been enough to get me interested in the game, { the “which” seems extra }

      but since only per player… really, one per game… would be required { only ONE per player? }

      It wasn’t necessarily a great, { great idea? }

      but at least it didn’t make it raise the barriers to entry into the gam for individuals { “make it” seems superfluous, “gam” }

      a stackof slim binders {missing space}

      The other problem, though is control: { shouldn’t there be a comma after “though”? }

      what is the league’s feelings { “are” to match “feelings”? }

      So I’d like tomake {missing space}

      incorpoated { incorporated }

      Current score: 0
      • Lunaroki says:

        Typo Report

        This turned into a potentially but probably not tangent

        Should probably read “potential” rather than “potentially”, since it’s describing “tangent”. Could probably also use commas around “but probably not” to make it read better.

        The fact that * act of carving takes away material without adding any does open up some possibilities.

        Seems to be missing a “the” before “act”.

        Current score: 0
  3. Dani says:

    Much of last week’s commentary, including mine, came from people who thought the storyline was dragging – that it didn’t work to have so many consecutive chapters of Mackenzie discussing what was going on in Acantha’s head, what she thought was going on in Acantha’s head, what Mackenzie thought when she thought about Acantha’s thoughts, and what her friends thought about those thoughts. That wasn’t a problem in this chapter.

    The characters are discussing potential business plans. They are mostly not discussing their reactions to the plans (except within the context of whether they are good plans). They are not discussing the process by which the planning is guided. (Mack does have a moment’s suspicion, but it isn’t allowed to spatter all over the chapter.) The dialog is not hugely different from some of the dialog in recent chapters, but the difference matters. It is the difference between advancing the plot and thinking about the plot.

    > This turned into a potentially but probably
    > not tangent when I started thinking …
    It took a lot of work to parse this. If I read it correctly, the intention was to say that what had started out as going off on a tangent led to a good idea. Maybe something closer to: “This wasn’t as much of a tangent as it could have been. I started thinking…”

    > it’s easier to remove stone than add it
    Seems like a job for the high-tech-enchantment equivalent of 3D printing.

    Current score: 0
    • Zergonapal says:

      Not if you have a resin putty you can sculpt onto the model. Being at the forefront of the wave means that you have a shot at controlling its direction. One direction would be to shift the perception that the soldiers have to be carved out of stone. Instead of Stone Soldiers it could be called Miniature Armies. After all if you can apply illusionary enhancements to “paint” the miniatures what does it matter what medium is underneath.

      Current score: 0
      • pedestrian says:

        Dani & Zergonapal, U think you have both described an OurUniverse version of Stone Soldiers. I was thinking though, in the supernatural domination of the MUniverse, that we need to consider Stone Soldiers as magical items. That is what adds value to one-at-a-time hand crafted items.

        So the idea of mass-producing simple, undecorated, faceless blanks would not, (usually, knock on wood!) violate the MU rules or draw attention of some warped humored divinity.

        Then each player would only need to influence the magical illusion controller to mask distinctive army and it’s sub-units.

        And I was just thinking, some figure like a Chess King or Ensign/Flag or something along these lines. Absolute victory being to capture an enemy King/Banner, even temporarily turn the captured enemy force into fighting for you?

        Current score: 0
        • Lunaroki says:

          The name of the game is Soldier Stones, not Stone Soldiers. That makes the “stone” aspect a bit more central to the game. It makes the idea like you are bringing stones to life to fight for you. Moving to another medium, albeit a similar one, would be kind of like a slap in the face to the core concept of the game.

          Current score: 1
          • JS says:

            Keeping the distinction is probably only paramount to kobolds, goblins, and, potentially, dwarves. It has already been co-opted by other races calling it Stone Soldiers as they don’t understand the importance.

            Current score: 0
          • LukeLicens says:

            In my opinion, you have that a bit backwards. The important part of Soldier Stones is the Soldier, as that’s what differentiates it from a pile of rocks. These stones are special because they are used to represent soldiers, hence Soldier Stones.

            On the other hand, Stone Soldiers is like Terracotta Army. It brings to mind an army of statues, animated or not.

            Current score: 0
  4. Not her, the other girl says:

    “This turned into a potentially but probably not tangent …”

    Did you mean “This turned into a potentially but probably not useful tangent” or maybe “This turned into a potentially useful but probably not tangent …” ?

    Also, hey Mack, if you keep glancing at Andreas you’re giving Acantha a huge tell. But you have your thoughts written on your face most of the time anyway so I guess it doesn’t matter. (I have no idea why this bothers me as much as it does.)

    Current score: 0
  5. Lantern says:

    Woo! Many of the things I mentioned in the previous commentary (for the chapter dealing with this group) were brought up here. If only I could start a business in the MUniverse…

    Current score: 1
  6. Mike says:

    Am I the only one thinking Mackenzie is going to approach druid-what’s-her-name about that enchanted map of hers? That would make a good base for her illusory video game concept.

    Current score: 0
    • Order of Chaos says:

      I said it before, Total War not WarHammer.

      Current score: 0
  7. Elf says:

    Thanks for fixing More Tales of MU, AE!

    Current score: 0
    • Order of Chaos says:

      Could someone post a link please as my google fu is weak and I can’t find it. I got a “More Tales of MU” link from google but clicking on it gives me a search for the word “more.”

      Current score: 0
  8. Tomo says:

    why not make a miniature mockbox to mock yourself in order to act as a general of the armies, while working with these animated figurines? it’s not incredibly intrusive, and one could still play without the mocked piece.

    Current score: 2
    • That one guy says:

      Heck yeah. 😀

      Current score: 0
    • HiEv says:

      I believe that would require stepping into a humanoid-sized mockbox, which isn’t exactly portable.

      Current score: 0
    • Order of Chaos says:

      MIEv has a point. Best to have a wand keyed to the General stone or have the General stone have a command word to look like whoever’s holding it.

      Current score: 0
  9. Anvildude says:

    And this chapter proves without a doubt that Acantha is attempting to steer the discussion into use of Mockbox technology. Opening the evening with a mention of mockboxes, pulling the discussion back to mockboxes when it started going towards illusion enhancement, ‘casually’ mentioning mockboxes even while ‘accepting’ the student-advanced ideas (“We’ll keep the Mockbox idea on the table and come back to it…”)- and cutting the meeting short when it seemed like it was about to become an actual brainstorming session instead of an “Anything you say, Professor Acantha” circlejerk.

    Current score: 2
    • Brenda A. says:

      You’re right, that really wasn’t much of a brainstorming session.

      Current score: 0
    • Baalzamon says:

      It seems pretty obvious that she’s looking for this group to make a miniature version of something she intends to use in conjunction with the stolen mock-box technology. Soldier Stones players aren’t the only ones who would pay for customised armies…

      I should imagine the profit she’ll make can be sized up by at least the same scale as the armies involved!

      Current score: 0
  10. TheEyes says:

    The irony here is that Mackenzie’s idea of an illusary gameboard could be more in keeping with the spirit of Soldier Stones, and is probably the more marketable idea to boot. An illusary gameboard would draw in newbies with the flashy effects, but it would also appeal to more experienced gamers by potentially pre-calculating complicated mechanics like fireball blast radius without distracting from the game, the way it apparently does now.

    Mock-duplicated soldiers, on the other hand, seems designed to piss off the old guard, while simultaneusly making the game less interesting to newcomers (since all the mass-produced stones will start out looking the same, and have no individual character). The only way I could see Shiel and Hazel putting up with it is if new rules were added giving the mass-mocked soldiers a disadvantage as compared to “proper” stones. This would make the rules more complicated, but it would have a few potential upsides as well:

    1) Gives serious players–those with full-custom armies–more “elite” cred,
    2) Opens the possibility of a varied tournament ladder: 0% custom soldiers max level, 25% max, etc)
    3) Opens the possibility of a standardized handicap (Shiel has a 30-soldier handicap on the Mines board)

    Taken together, I’d expect in a serious venture situation Mack’s idea would be developed first, given its ability to grow the current fanbase essentially risk-free, as compared to the Mocked Soldiers idea. In light of that I’d say it’s pretty likely this is all a setup for Acantha to get more time to snoop on the new variant mockbox.

    Current score: 0
  11. HiEv says:

    How many of the members of this group have even seen the game played? This seems like a startup company trying to figure out how to make a profit off of something that most of them don’t have any experience with, and the rest have only peripheral knowledge of.

    I think they need to actually play the game so they can deconstruct its weak points and see if there are other areas they could provide helpful tools for.

    Current score: 1
    • Cadnawes says:

      That’s a good idea. But based on what I’m seeing, it’s not going to happen. That would involve not having a foregone destination, which this chapter proves to me they do have.

      Current score: 1
  12. scifi_chic says:

    “Alright, so l think” – I think?

    Current score: 0
  13. Zathras IX says:

    Use a mockbox for
    Reproductive purposes
    Without any sex?

    Current score: 1
  14. Tim says:

    More Tales of Mu subsection seems to be down, letting u know.

    Current score: 0
  15. William Carr says:

    When is Mackenzie going to realize this technology would let her animate her Mech Knights figurines?

    The spinoff profits from an authorized Mech Knights game would be quite lucrative.

    You handle the Illusion component with bespelled playing cards, as in “Magic the Gathering”.

    Although this would be called “Science; the Gathering”.

    You collect the cards, and use them to reprogram the Stone miniatures.

    Get out pre-programmed Mockbox, lay down your cards, and you have your custom set immediately.

    Character stats, powers, illusion settings. Already done.

    Current score: 0
    • Order of Chaos says:

      Her Mech Knights toys are already animated and once you’ve paid to license the Mech Knights I.P. your profits may not be that big. Science the Gathering may work as it could use a custom mockbox and we know that you can make magic items that are hard to analyse so you could slow down homemade cards.

      Current score: 0
  16. Mist42nz says:

    If I follow the magic, adding or deducting enhanced mass shouldn’t be beyond your usual transmutations, as long as principle purpose or identity wasn’t exceeded (c.f. Shadow walking in Zelazny’s Princes in Amber series)

    The official and money obsession reminds me of the old days of T$R and Wizards of the Cost. Magic the Spending used to inspire so many of us make mock cards out of paper and cardboard to have cool decks, didn’t look as cool but better than working your butt off to have boxes of wallpaper. Same as war gaming with crumpled paper, boxes and blocks of wood for buildings, cardboard squares for miniatures (tanks, inf, or fantasy). The fantasy stuff never fitted character anyway. Left the official stuff for rich countries with consumer obsessions.

    Mock boxes should be able to give life size equipment, or shrink them. A similar investment in design would allow projection, of any size of illusion. Images captured, and manipulated, to be seen. So real fireballs could be done and their image captured, to be duplicated, with charges, on the game map. Map vistas could be projected at mirror or life size, even to the point of laser tag realism. No reason the simulcrims need be local, if ether channel space or quantum entanglement equivalents exist. A geek version of …forgotten the team battles… Each team having mock terrain detail, with mock enemies in different places in the world. Could even do the mock, then have them use illusionary equipment, that way any conceivable equipment could be implimented… From bare knuckles to MacKenzie the Shadowrunner…

    Current score: 0