Good points from The Visual Display of Quantitative Information:
The history section is also good. The criticism section was much too long. Overall the book felt like it had very little content given the page count, and while it could be an eye-opener for someone who's never seen anything outside of the most basic Excel graphs I'd couldn't recommend it to anyone looking for a good guide to charts.
If you know a good source in the same vein, please be in touch. Ψ
Player Skill vs. Character Skill is an old problem from tabletop roleplaying games that comes from a tension inherent in the conceit of playing a character who is unlike yourself. On the one hand, a player should not need to be a great speaker to play a persuasive politician; on the other, it's engaging when the knowledge you accumulate and use in your mundane life suddenly becomes of value in extraordinary circumstances, as when a detective character encounters an industrial smell the player recognizes from their workplace and it's a key clue in a mystery. The question in a tabletop RPG is where to draw the line, and while it's fuzzy, you always need to avoid the smart guy who decides he'll invent gunpowder in a fantasy setting, but it's standard to require the players to work out logic puzzles themselves rather than relying on the godlike intelligence of the party wizard.
The distinction between player skill and character skill also holds in video games, but I think it plays out in a very different way.
Character skill covers those abilities you only have because the game remembers who you are; it is your identity and the game's recognition of it that give you power. If you dedicate a lot of time to an MMO your character will naturally increase in level and quality of equipment and you will gain contacts and various in-game powers. If you lose your save file or change your identity, you lose everything.
Player skill covers those abilities that always work for the same game regardless of where or how you play. This doesn't mean that these abilities are profound or have any meaning outside the game itself; just as Guitar Hero skill doesn't correspond with musical ability in any obvious way, neither does being good at Guilty Gear mean you're handy in a fight. Like character skill, player skill increases with time, but only because the way the player treats the game changes; the game itself treats old timers the same as new faces.
Few games rely on only either one or the other of the above; for MMOs and long-form RPGs there are more and less effective builds and battle strategies that can be key to your advancement. Similarly, even in traditional fighting games there are usually unlockable characters that can change the scales, even if they're not admissable in tournaments or serious fights. Still, the source of progression in a game can be intrinsic or extrinsic to the player, and that depends on how the game is made more than it depends on who is playing it. In some games a level 10 character will always beat a level 1 character; in some games it'll be hard but the weaker character can win; in some there are no levels in the first place.
Understanding these two kinds of progression helps me understand why some people enjoy different kinds of video games. I know there are people who sincerely enjoy Progress Quest (if not very seriously), which is a parody of character-skill only design, and it's because numbers going up provides a visceral satisfaction. I know that enjoy starting a game over and realizing that something that gave me a lot of trouble is now part muscle memory, part applied theory, and entirely smooth.
I've been suspicious of traditional level-based character progression for a long time; it often strikes me as a means to stretch out thin gameplay. Player skill being irrelevant is worse than character skill being too important, but I'm still trying to figure out better guidelines for what kind of character skill progression works and what doesn't. Understanding that the two kinds of progression scratch completely different sweet spots is the first step on the way there. Ψ
At the Akihabara Super Potato this weekend I took a peek in the rare games case and noticed something that surprised me: a Wonderswan Color game for over 50,000￥, or 500USD. The Wonderswan consoles definitely had their fans and success stories - Riviera was first released for the console - but even though it probably has rare games it was hard to believe there would be enough interest a price that high would make sense. When I got home I checked online and found another copy of the same game, except this time it was over 70,000￥.
The game in question is Dicing Knight, not to be confused with Dicing Knight Period. The Wikipedia article refers to a Dicing Knight Legion; there appear to be no other references to this online, but a Japanese blog post from 2010 does suggest that two versions of the game were released: Dicing Knight and Dicing Knight. In case you didn't catch it, the second one's period is part of the title, thus when speaking it's called "Dicing Knight Period". It's not entirely clear, but the non-Period version - the first one sold - may only run on WonderWitch systems (more about that briefly).
The game itself looks a great deal like a traditional Zelda title, except that maps are randomly generated and hard - it's an action roguelike. Based on the gameplay video the range of items is much broader than it would be in Zelda, with watches that allow you to stop time as well as cute bunny heads.
One interesting detail about the game is that it was developed for a contest using the WonderWitch (offical homepage), essentially a devkit with a C-based toolchain for the Wonderswan that was available to normal consumers (one was for sale at Super Potato for around 20,000￥). One of two winners of the 2003 development competition to be officially published, the other was called Judgment SilverSword, and while also rare it went through enough printings that it doesn't quiet enjoy the status of Dicing Knight.
The developers of Dicing Knight are also chugging along, releasing games regularly at Comiket. Their latest is Anisotropic Girl Magatsuhi, which looks like the classically bewildering Animal Attack Gakuen.
After all that I feel like I've learned a little something about the history of WonderSwan indie development but nothing at all about used game prices. The thing about mysteries is that some of them simply have no explanation. Ψ
With Google killing off Reader it's time to move to a new service to keep up with everything. I'm not a heavy user, comparatively speaking - about one hundred feeds, and thirty to fifty items a day including noise from data.gov and Free Stuff on Craigslist Tokyo. Still far more than it's reasonable to handle manually. I never used the sharing features in any big way.
Looking around at options like Feedly, The Old Reader, and Newsblur (which I'd actually tried before), the importance they place on their interfaces made me think about what I actually want. The important things with an RSS reader from my perspective are:
The last one is pretty important because I subscribe to feeds aggressively and then unsubscribe the same way, so I tend to end up with a lot of noise. Zed Shaw (warning: obnoxious) actually had a lot of the same ideas many years ago and decided he was looking for "The Mutt of RSS Readers". Well, why not just use mutt?
There are lots of ways to get RSS feeds via email, but I found Blogtrottr and it works well. It can import a Google Reader OPML list of feeds, there's a bookmarklet for adding feeds, and you can set mail titles on a per-feed basis as well as filtering them at the source (rather than in your mail server) if you need to. Besides that it has a key feature I'd never thought I'd need: it can accumulate your feeds into digests on a daily or more fine-grained basis. This is great for feeds with twenty posts a day where I can scan and pick out the one or two (at most) I'm interested in.
Though at first it seemed like it would be annoying, moving RSS to email lets you use all the filtering and organizational tools you're used to without having to arbitrarily use another set of commands or keybindings. Losing a service you use all the time is no fun even if you're not enthusiastic about it, but with Reader in a downhill slide for years, getting pushed off it looks like it'll ultimately be for the better. Ψ
I'm fortunate to work near Ark Hills, a small shopping, office, and residential complex right near the American Embassy in Akasaka. It's well known for its sakura, which aren't numerous but are very nicely positioned. It's not a rare name in Tokyo, but there's a reason they call the spot Sakura Hill.
Another lovely spot at any time of year is the nearby rose garden, which is where I have lunch sometimes if the weather's not too bad.
It's pretty quiet, but there are a few regulars.
I used to worry about my lunch buddies because they're strays, but after a while I realized they have about six people feeding them every day. The orange fellow disappeared for a while after New Years and speculation immediately turned to his death, but a few days later he was out in his usual grumpy style, hogging all the food and gazing at everything with contempt.
They're not chatty company, but it's a good place to read. Ψ