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An explanation (for why I am the way I am)

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An explanation (for why I am the way I am) - 6/27/2005 4:11:04 AM   

Posts: 3027
Joined: 5/1/2002
From: Daly City CA USA
Status: offline

I thought I'd write this in an effort to set the record straight on why I post what I post re wargames. This post will not attack any person or any company; it will attempt to give insight on my thought patterns re all things wargames, or maybe more to the point regarding life. Whether that will be of any use to anyone I cannot say.

This story starts a long time ago, some fifty years back. That's when I began wargaming with toy Marxx soldiers on the floor. But I'll fast-forward to last spring when my wife, Katie, and I were selling our house in Santa Cruz and moving to old digs up in the mountains.

Let's see. I basically spent April through July last year revisiting my building skills. (I used to build for a living. I used to do lots of things to earn my bread and cheese. I've been a writer, a driver, a retrofitter, a bartender, now I hack a cab. All in all I've done lots of things in my short life to put food on the table.)

But back to my story proper.

Last April, in order to sell our property for a reasonable price, Katie and I decided to "fix it up."

To that end, first I knocked down an old fence and built a new fence along one side of our property. It was a good fence when I was done with it, out by an inch or so at one point, and I didn't like to look down at that as it spoiled the line, but whatever, the fence was solid and serviceable when I was through with it. About as good as you'd get if you bought one from a contractor downtown, maybe better still. A decent job.

That was just to warm me and the saw up, though.

Then I reconstructed one lower outside deck--call it 400 square feet of flopping boards--and for that I needed to pour an anchored concrete base at the open end (the grade was going south fast and taking the deck with it) with three sonos raised about three feet for beam supports. The entire deck surface needed to be replaced as well, along with many of the joists, posts and piers, plus new joists, posts and piers which I chose to insert for further support. The rail system I merely repaired in places, reinforcing as needed. That part was a relative breeze. As it turned out this project entailed new ground to build on, so in came about ten yards of base rock, with all that that implies. (Moving it, leveling it, compacting it.) In all this consumed about a month, start to finish, working on other stuff here and there as I moved along.

Next, I leveled and re-supported yet another deck area that held our hot tub--this was beginning to lean hard the wrong way. All of this deck work necessitated the use of jacks, and that's dangerous work by nature. The lower hot-tub deck was especially scary to work on--it looked as if the deck would just tip over on us at any moment, but we somehow got out from underneath it alive, and now it ought to be good for another twenty years.

Somewhere along the line I also rebuilt the cantilevered deck off the master bedroom (it had been wrongly constructed from the beginning, under-built by about 50% according to the span tables I consulted, and how people get away with this quality of work I'll never know), then replaced the entire wall of the garage directly below that deck that had been infested and weakened by termites. All in all that was another three weeks work, off and on.

For good measure, I refinished our three wood exterior doors, both sides of one of them, stripping and sanding, then coming back over everything with teak oil. Those came out pretty good, too. I guess you could say the doors were the "fun" part of the greater project. I wish I had pictures of them before and after, and if I did I'd share.

For help I hired Mexican labor that stands in front of one of the lumber yards in Santa Cruz. These were all poor workers save for one, a kid named Heron. He was a kind of rough gem, and I'm still working with him today--he lives up on the mountain now, too, and pitches in with odd jobs when Katie and I need him. He helped me this last week rebuild a portion of flagstone walkway that was set in wrong by yet other Mexican workers hired by Katie in my absence down here in the Bay Area. These people work cheap and Katie loves "deals." I'm trying to break her of that, but I don't know.

The walkway in question, less than three feet across mind you, was out of level by an inch and a half at the high end by the terrace, which means I leaned precariously to the left trying to mount that terrace and precariously to the right dismounting that terrace. Also, the step these fools provided from the walkway up onto the terrace was going on a full foot high! Ever tried mounting a step twelve inches high? (In case you're wondering, risers since the Greeks are habitually built about seven inches high, depending on the tread depth before them.)

So, in a foul mood I ripped half that walkway out, starting back at a section of it which was properly leveled, more or less, and provided a new level ramp up to the terrace by pouring concrete, roughly fifteen running feet of it three feet across, mixing this (going on a cubic yard) in a wheelbarrow, wouldn't you know? then I floated the flagstones on top of that, at last mortaring the cracks between the stones before covering everything with plastic. (You have to do that or concrete won't cure properly. And don't even get me going on the driveway ramp down to the road those same workers poured for Katie while I was gone. This ramp is already cracked, just three weeks old, and several thousand dollars expensive. I'm not happy about that.)

Anyway, the new flagstone walkway required two days labor--the morning and afternoon of the first day to fetch the materials and build the forms (it's a winding walkway so we used bender board), then it took six hours the next day to pour the concrete ramp and float and mortar the stones. It's mostly okay now, with the step up onto the terrace a more conventional and convenient seven-inch riser. And it's level now, of course. Should be ready for use by this coming weekend.

That was this last Thursday. Later that same evening, with all of my 56-year-old joints aching, I drove back down to the Bay Area (a two-and-a-half-hour pull) to hack my Friday and Saturday shifts--I need to drive 200 hours per annum to keep my taxi medallion current--it's just five or six hours per shift as a rule, but still, this far down the road it gets to me.

What does this any of this have to do with wargames?

It has to do with wargames as much as it has to do with how I go through life.

I always try to do my best, and I'm rarely satisfied with the work I finally accomplish. It doesn't matter if it's writing, bartending, driving ready-mix or pounding nails at my own house, I give my best, wish I could do better, and I always guarantee my work. If something is wrong afterward I'm easy to find and as obliging as can be when I show up to rectify my mistakes. I know for a fact everyone can't say that much, but I can and I'm proud of it.

That's how I was raised.

As for wargaming itself: I go back as far as anyone in this forum. I've played wargames since I was a child, I've reviewed them professionally and I've volunteered to playtest any number of titles, some of these Gary's titles. My name, in one form or another, is all over the hobby. And my work has been, if not always first rate, then certainly the best I could give at the time. A slacker I am not.

That's for the forum in general.

Now I would like to address to Erik directly.

Erik, you asked that I respond to you privately, but I felt that was motivated by anxiety on your part that I might respond heatedly, or with yet more criticism of you and/or the company you work for. That will be not be the case, so rest easy.

I'm genuinely sorry if I've offended you, angered you or otherwise upset your apple cart here. For anything I've written in this forum that was taken personally, I apologize, as that was never my intention.

What has been my intention?

My intention has been to encourage the wargame community, and Matrix Games in particular, to try to do better work. My message is that even though Matrix feels as though it's doing the best job possible that it can, improvement is, nevertheless, possible from my point of view.

I've run three different companies, two of which I owned, and I know this much: improvement is always possible. I also realize that it isn't a happy experience to receive criticism, no matter how well meaning that criticism might be. I don't like to be criticized anymore than the next man. But that's part and parcel of the improvement process, as without criticism there can never be improvement. Praise sounds better to the ear, but we do not learn from praise. That's just the way we, as human beings, are. We need to kept on our toes. Criticism keeps us on our toes.

As for my critical writing, I'd guess I'm too direct, too abrasive, for a general audience to digest day after day, especially in the year 2005. You could blame the Internet partially for that. Years ago when I first wrote reviews for the hobby, for magazines like Fire & Movement and The Grenadier, an article on any given game was a one-shot deal. The writer was in and out in so many column inches and that was that. The reader only needed to read the review, good, bad or indifferent, one time if he so chose, and be on his way. Plus, it was another month at least before the reader would encounter that writer's opinion and style again, and at that it would be on another title, not the same one.

Even at that, criticism was not easy for game designers to take. For you see they just weren't used to it. It wasn't the norm to offer hard criticism, it was the norm to offer soft criticism. Even back then.

Example: when I wrote the review in F&M for the GDW title Fire in the East I went on for several thousands of words of high praise for the game; when I came to the supply system, however, I felt obliged to state the truth, that it didn't work very well on balance.

John Astell, then head of the Europa project (FitE was part of that larger wargame system) wrote back under my review in space provided by the magazine that while he appreciated my glowing praise he couldn't get into or even understand my criticism of the supply system. He went on about how my remarks didn't make sense, about how offended he felt that I'd written any such thing. And this after a long review that was 99% praise and 1% criticism.

Today, with bulletin boards being the new medium of critical exchange between the lay and companies, the dynamics have become more fluid, and I'm afraid the reaction to criticism has become even less measured.

One problem with criticism on the Internet today is that it's so immediate and redundant of nature. These boards at Matrix are a good example. One thread after another discussing mainly the same points, over and over and over again. It gets to be old after awhile, especially with criticism abundant, most especially still with the digressions of personal nature, the yelling, the shouting, etc.

Then also consider: much, if not most, of what we read today on the Internet in terms of product reviews for recreational software is fluff. There's no other word for it. It's written by writers apparently not trained or even necessarily given over to written form, who generally offer praise of computer game product, less often criticism, much less often hard criticism. That's not to say criticism is never forthcoming, but for the Internet press per se this is reserved for the computer games that arrive completely dead or otherwise unworkable, or maybe it's even the case the reviewer simply couldn't understand the rules. Whatever, we live in an Internet world today, journalistically speaking, which is more than a little self-serving, and as a result hardly anyone in the press "rocks the boat." Unfortunately, the public seems to have learned to follow suit.

Also, with users in mind, it's the case now that almost all the boards are company owned and operated. Back in the day there were independent boards run by magazines or just plain folk, where all sorts of hard criticism was exchanged and good ideas trotted out to see if they worked or not and so on, and moderators were either nonexistent or hardly ever around, and somehow that worked back then. But those boards have mostly dried up (the good boards, at least) for whatever reasons, and now if one wants to talk seriously about a game such as WitP the only place to really do so is on the Matrix Games boards.

And that's not all bad. These boards are run at company expense, not user expense, and they do tend to collect people with similar gaming interests. And that's a good deal.

But it's not all good at that. These boards also collect people with a penchant for praise, not criticism. Ten years ago, say, boards devoted to wargame talk (not company run) ran about 50-50 when it came to those who criticized and those who simply praised. Now it's more like 5-95, and so there's bound to be more friction between those with criticism and those with praise.

I wish I had the answer, Erik, but I do not. I wish I didn't irritate you, Erik, yet I seem to all the time. That I regret. Irritating you or anyone else is not my raison d'etre. I'd like to add that if there were more people willing to offer hard criticism of these games I wouldn't feel as if I had to. But there are not. There are certainly other wargamers who see what I see--I don't make this stuff up, the problems are real enough, and once in awhile other people do echo my same thoughts--but the tendency is to not want to be unpopular, not to be kicked off company boards, the tendency is to "get along," and when the trend is only 5% criticism to 95% praise, it's tough to ask most people to buck that strong current on a regular basis. So others with my "sight" only complain a little bit, go to extremes in some cases to couch their language accordingly. Again, they try to get along. In contrast, I've become over the years something of a hobby "curmudgeon." I'd rather not be, honest. I'd rather to sit back and watch the good work happen and not have to say a thing. Ever. That would be ideal.

But the criticism needs to get out or the next ambitious wargame project down the line, either from Matrix Games or some other wargame company, either by Gary or some other designer, will most likely face similar problems on release as are faced by WitP today. If so, we wouldn't have made much progress.

I'm very pleased that Gary revisited this old subject of his. This is an area of World War II that has been largely ignored over the years, and one that I have avid interest in. Without Gary there wouldn't be hardly anything on the subject. To that extent Gary has served the hobby well and I'm indebted to him.

I'm somewhat displeased, however, that more attention wasn't paid to the desires of the smaller market of wargamers who are the most demanding when it comes to this type of wargame fare. I strongly believe that a better job could have and should have been made of the project, no matter how little money was available to fund it, and that the larger, less-demanding part of the wargame community would have been made just as happy at the same time. As I see it, two birds could have been killed with one stone. Gary has a genius for designing fun games to play. My contention is that accurate fun games to play need be no less fun to play than inaccurate games.

Unless I'm very much mistaken, and I doubt I am, I think it's come to the stage where projects of this nature, this grand scope, require more than the effort of only two or three programmers. I also believe that more input from knowledgable wargamers needs to be incorporated into this kind of work. As there doesn't seem to be money available to pay people of this breed, a problem immediately rears it head, and what the solution to that is I don't kow, either. But the effort should be made to get the best possible people to work on software of this kind. And then they need to be listened to, closely, or little good will come of it.

If Matrix/2by3 made that effort, but were somehow scotched anyway, then so be it. With that I'd have no complaint at all. I'd know disappointment, for sure, but harbor no complaint.

Years ago David Landrey ran the playtesting for Joel for a number of SSI products, some of these Gary's games. I mention this because I know how hard David worked and how organized he was about everything he did, but even so it challenged him. And David is a former game designer himself with oodles of experience and know-how, and the games we speak to were puny by today's standards, nowhere near as detailed and involved, so testing those titles to get them roughly right was relatively simple compared to testing stuff like WitP where it's literally impossible to thoroughly test the game before publication--the time involved argues absolutely against that.

Even so, with smaller projects and the best organization I've seen, mistakes were made and criticism was the result years ago. Today it's harder still to get the games proper, so no wonder,to me that criticism from some quarters has increased, both in magnitude and tone.

I believe I have the right, even the duty, to make these comments. I've given as much as anyone to this hobby over the years, much more than most of the people who populate these boards, or whoever will populate them in the future, and while I might "talk through my hat" from time to time, I feel my greatest fault is not that I don't know what I'm talking about half the time but that I do know what I'm talking the majority of the time, only I apparently lack the good sense not to say it. If I become too personal in my remarks, for that I would apologize to you, Erik, and anyone else I've offended, for it is never my purpose to offend anyone just for the fun of it. That low I don't stoop--something else some people cannot claim, but that's another matter.

My purpose is to encourage the movers and shakers of our hobby to do better if possible, to always do the best they can. I feel I'm within bounds to so ask this of Matrix Games, for this is nothing more than I expect of myself, nothing more than I have always given our hobby.

Modest builder that I am, I would tell Matrix Games pretty much what I told Heron with regard to the mixing and the pouring and the curing of concrete. There are many ways to do this, no doubt, but as far as I know there is only one correct way to do this, and that would be "by the numbers." First thoroughly mix the concrete ingredients, then pour this mixture as rapidly as possible into the forms, then work it and wrap it all up afterward with plastic for ten days or so until the concrete has had a chance to properly (that is to say, slowly) cure. Or rather begin to cure. Concrete cures for a year or more, if you want to know--much the same as with other things expected to stand the test of time, this curing process doesn't happen over night, but it takes awhile. If one doesn't follow this regimen, the result will be a weak (and in the case of my driveway ramp already-cracked) concrete structure. Or whatever it is we might be trying to build. In the case before us here, a wargame.

And now I've come approximately full circle.

Talking through my hat again, perhaps, but as always well meaning and not wishing to abuse anyone. So, Erik, can we work together for a better hobby, or must I be branded an outlaw?

Post #: 1
RE: An explanation (for why I am the way I am) - 6/27/2005 4:36:28 AM   
Erik Rutins


Posts: 34398
Joined: 3/28/2000
From: Vermont, USA
Status: online

I will make a few brief comments, then lock this as it's really between us as far as discussion. I appreciate the comments you made here. If you want to continue discussing any specifics, please do so via PM.

I respect the desire for perfection and improvement, but it must be tempered with an understanding that, outside of pouring concrete, perfection is not always achievable. However, it should _always_ be a goal.

Criticism is expected, no game design has been perfect so far in the history of gaming. Certainly, some have been more perfect than others. Criticism can be effective and constructive without being overly negative. I never object to criticism, but often when you think you are being direct, you are actually being extremely negative, more than in my opinion is called for. If you were less negative, without being less critical, you would really have no problem with me. It's important also to know that when criticism has been heard, the message has been delivered and the discussion can move on.

In my opinion, constructive criticism is not only the most valuable for a developer but also the most difficult to provide. It is easy to say that something is broken, it is much more difficult to come up with a solution to fix it and even more so to make that solution one that works within the existing system so that implementing it is feasible. I would contend that for a critic, perfection is to provide criticism of such constructive quality that the game is changed for the better as a result of that criticism.

I have no desire to brand any customer or forum member an outlaw. I have not banned a single user in five years of helping with this forum and I would be very pleased if, as a result of this exchange, that could continue for five more years.

My warning stands, but I am encouraged by this response and I hope our future discussions will be of a different sort.


- Erik


Erik Rutins
Director of Product Development

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(in reply to Tristanjohn)
Post #: 2
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