Your Desperate Pleas for DM Resources Have Been Answered

Sort of, at least.

After making my D&D prep TED video the other day I have been flooded with requests for access to some of the custom content I mentioned, in particular the coveted Build-A-Baddie table. Well, you’re welcome to it. May it bring you swift and successful improvised combat.

“It’s like Build-A-Bear. But for baddies.”

(For whatever reason WordPress isn’t enjoying the picture; the Imgur link above should provide a higher quality version).

Of course it’s pretty basic and isn’t intended for the creation of actual planned adversaries; they should have a little more thought put in. This is strictly for when your PCs pick a fight with someone you never thought they’d pick a fight with, but you still want combat with that NPC to have some character and depth.

The system is really simple: First choose whether the ‘Baddie’ best fits the category of Strong, Smart or Skilled. Then, in the appropriate column, you can select a build archetype with its appropriate AC and HP (thrown together with my 1st level party in mind) as well as what saves should get a bonus (this uses the Pathfinder Saves, but I’m sure you can extrapolate the equivalent 5e saves if you so desire). This archetype doesn’t necessarily mean exactly what it says of the tin, it just evokes a sense of what kind of a Strong, Smart or Skilled person they are. I think the example I used in the video was a mercenary bandit who had the Soldier archetype. What that tells me (other than his AC, HP, and Save) isn’t that he’s a soldier-mercenary-bandit-uber-person, but rather that this is a more disciplined fighter, possibly better technically trained in combat, yada yada you get it. Next: Basic Attacks! Each of these columns has at least one option that would likely come paired with another of the weapons listed, like the shield or the True Strike, to give you some variety. And finally, because you want this combat to feel special even if it did just come up totally out of the blue, I’ve listed some Special Actions that you can choose from on the fly to give your NPC a little more flavour. The party have started some biff with a group of snooty rich uni boys? Turns out the leader of their little gang can command his goons to fight better (via Inspiration). That carnie acrobat with the glass eye who won’t give the party their refund? She can move really freaking fast (helloooooo Mobile)! The wish is to give the impression that this isn’t just any stock standard fight; this is an actual character the PCs have shirtfronted, whether you planned them that way or not.

And that’s it! Simple as that! Thanks for showing an interest, everyone, hopefully you find some purpose and usefulness for this in your game.

I certainly hope it works… For all our sakes.


Ivan’s Virtual Island: Critique

This session I’ve been following Ivan’s project in which he’s been attempting to build a virtual space using Unreal Engine, extending the experience he got working on the virtual reality recreation of the Yellow House gallery with Chris Moore. His original aim was to create a learning environment. We had discussed this concept early on with ideas of a digital building inside which various subjects for study could be found. The idea of a globe of the Earth was suggested, molecules which could be examined to learn more about their structure; something that could educationally engage a user on an interactive three-dimensional level.

Think Viki from ‘I, Robot’. But not terrifying and homicidal. And also a globe. Maybe think XCOM instead.

Upon testing the waters and coming to the conclusion that this would be a lot of difficult work for his skill level and areas of knowledge, Ivan altered his aims to focus on the second of these ideas; building a 3D model of a molecular structure within a virtual space. Once again FEFO (Fail Early Fail Often) reigned supreme and this attempt, too, was scrapped after some building. Attempt number three saw a VR recreation of Howl’s Moving Castle from the Studio Ghibli film of the same name. This iteration was fairly successful and Ivan’s work was of a high standard, however he ultimately put this project aside as well, citing foreseeable legal issues with copyright that he wanted to avoid.

Finally, Ivan settled on the concept of a relaxation space which he calls “Meditation Island”. Throughout all of these changes the core methodology remained the same, with Ivan continuing to practice the use of Unreal Engine to create virtual spaces, maintaining his goal of development using the medium. From an early pitch phase of this finalised build Ivan talked with the class about immersion through details and wanted to be able to include such things as audio to go along with the island’s shapes and textures in order to create that sense of reality. By the time of his Beta presentation he had very successfully integrated not only effective audio but also an imitation of a light breeze moving the leaves of the vegetation on the virtual island, confirming the significance of these details and highlighting their importance within Ivan’s project.

The Beta presentation did a great job of covering Ivan’s reiterative process and development from his early concept of a learning space to the final product of Meditation Island. Having the space available to be experienced on his laptop was a huge bonus to the Beta as a whole, allowing those viewing it to experience the space for themselves. Securing access to an Oculus Rift headset as he had done earlier in the session could have allowed the class to experience the island to its fullest extent, but it certainly wasn’t necessary for the impact to be felt, and in all honesty an improperly adjusted virtual reality headset and earphones may have wound up detracting from the finished artefact counter productively.

We all hate having to contend with too-loose or too-tight, heavy, unfocused VR goggles, amiright? Right? Who can tell that this has been my general Oculus Rift experience so far? Everyone? Ok cool, just checking.

I would have enjoyed more detailed descriptions on the process of deciding which avenue of creation Ivan was pursuing and specifics as to why each attempt was scrapped or deemed a failure; more along the lines of the perceived potential for legal issues with the third project attempt for each of the other efforts would have been well received. In addition to this I would have liked to hear exactly how Ivan arrived at the success of his immersive audio, which had been brought up during earlier updates as something he wasn’t sure how to implement with verisimilitude. The addition of ambient sound had been a great point of interest for the class during previous discussions and I think the group as a whole would have liked to hear how this actually played out functionally. Further detail in annotation on Ivan’s blog post regarding this project would be interesting also, along the lines of his progress updates posted to twitter.

As far as feedback on the project itself… it’s difficult for me to speak on with technical sense since I have no experience in generating virtual spaces and am not familiar with the inner workings of Unreal Engine. Speaking from my limited position, however, I would recommend tweaks to things like water movement speed as was discussed by Ivan during the Beta itself. On the whole, I feel that small changes make a huge difference with this project, as seen with the addition of audio and leaf motion. Small details along those lines could be expected to continue making a massive positive impact. Perhaps splitting of the two different bodies of water, for example, making the lake on the island and the water surrounding the island into two separate pieces of water with their own distinct feels could go a long way to enhancing that sense of reality in Ivan’s virtual space.

The subject of the project’s public presence was brought up during the Beta regarding exactly how it will be released with no real definitive answers, Ivan wanting to present it as the intended VR experience and not just showcase the space in video form. I agree with this method as there has been plenty of public documentation across multiple sites of the full process, enough that I don’t feel more necessary until he’s identified a method of distribution which credits the project as it should.

A Study in Persona

For my Cybercultures class this session (DIGC335 for anyone who’s interested, I highly recommend it) I ended up delving quite a bit into the idea of persona and what exactly that means and where exactly it ends, which was a surprise to even myself given I’d started out by looking at Nuzlocke story sharing. So hopefully this doesn’t get too wibbly as I ramble about my findings over there for a while because it’s relevant and hella interesting.

yo dawg meme.png

Essentially my research came down to the phenomenological concept of experience defining reality. We only experience the world through sensation, so it is our experiences that make up everything we are. I experience therefore I am and all that. But when looking at persona online, that reality gets stretched beyond just physical sensational experiences.

So, to use the Nuzlocke example: A Nuzlocke webcomic would be an artistic rendering of a player’s experiences playing a pokemon game using the Nuzlocke ruleset. However, using our phenomenological definition of beingness, trying to identify which persona is the “real” person becomes incredibly tricky. Where exactly are you supposed to draw the line when you have a player artist experiencing the game, a character they’ve drawn based on themselves experiencing those same events within the narrative, as well as a character avatar enacting those events within the game’s coding AND an audience reading and experiencing those same events once again through a cathartic empathy with the comic protagonist?

It might seem like an extreme example just suddenly dropping this from a third year subject into a first year one without any context, but really I think it acknowledges strongly that we have to recognise different personae as being just as “real” and “authentic” as our analogue selves, even if they don’t all match up with each other or meet our expectations of what reality should be. Because, just as with any simulation; if you’re experiencing it as reality then what’s the difference? What does it matter?

Boundaries of Collective Intelligence

I have a favourite story I like to tell to illustrate the difference between legacy journalism and citizen journalism through sites like Twitter. I’d been having lunch with friends and one of them had spent the entire early half of the conversation deriding new media, proudly declaring that he had no Facebook or Twitter accounts, instead getting his news from reliable old fashioned fact checked sources, like radio. I gritted my teeth through the derision and allowed the conversation to move on. Some 10 minutes later he somehow got back onto his tirade against Twitter. “Hashtags are the scourge of the Earth!” he complained (or something to that effect anyway). “That stupid dress colour thing happened on the same day as Leonard Nimoy’s death and so it’s all the radio talked about!” Being a huge Star Trek fan he was extremely upset by this injustice.

I pointed out to him that, actually, the two events happened days apart. That such a thing was perfectly visible from a position seated in the heart of Twitter. That #TheDress had died down plenty in time to see the many tributes to the sci-fi legend Twitter put forth with #RIPLeonardNimoy trending. That as it turned out, all his argument had proven was that he waits for a week to get the exact same news Twitter would have given him instantly, that it was more clumsily delivered, and that he himself didn’t do any fact checking. He’d turned quite red by this point and quietly changed the subject.

slowpoke meme
Accurate representation of legacy media.

I’ve become really interested in the concept of shared knowledge and collective intelligence, and whether or not there is a place where this ‘citizen journalism’ ends. The shift in journalistic media and news sharing towards new media sites has, among other things, made less of a distinction between what is “newsworthy” and what is not because the audience is able to decide which news they want to tune into for themselves. We can see how this works on a global scale, but I’d posit that it can work on an incredibly small, local, insular level as well.

I attended high school during the initial rise of Facebook and one of its primary uses during that time was that it became a hub of information sharing. Regularly we’d send out the call for help on homework questions or assignments, due dates, excursion info, anything we needed to know, and responses would be instant, developing this kind of hive mind we’ve talked about in the course. We could collect the data we needed from each other instantaneously, because there was always someone in the connected community who had the information on hand. It all keeps coming back to that idea that no one knows everything, but everyone knows something.

Courting Italians: Remix Culture

After listening to the lecture on remix culture, I knew I wanted to give remixing a go myself, despite having little to no idea what I was doing. And this is the result. A somewhat illegal, manywhat dodgy mash up of a dance mix by Artistic Raw (I tried to make my own, it wasn’t pretty at all) and a childhood favourite film of mine, The Court Jester, starring Danny Kaye.

Somehow I’m still proud of it, because BOY it was hard.

My edits to the music were pretty minimal in the long run, just reorganising, clipping, switching bits out, I can only begin to imagine the time and effort taken to build it from the ground up. I found out quickly I wasn’t musically gifted enough to thread actual tunes together over my original terrible backing track, so again my spoken-word-only vocals must be a million times simpler than trying to match pitch and keys and what have you.

All I’m saying is that the skill required to take part in this subculture has to be considerable. And once again, new media becomes a great equaliser! People finding a way to showcase their abilities even without having access to a bajillion dollars of sound equipment — they’ll take the stuff YOU made with your bajillion dollars worth of sound equipment and they’ll prove that just with a laptop, they can make it better (ooor, at least different). Reformatting texts to make a separate text that’s entirely new. It’s like a super cool take on adaptation theory. With the amount of work that goes into these, and the complete difference most of them have to their original sampled origins… Really it just makes me think once again that we probably need to update how copyright laws function (in a GOOD way, not a more power to the big guys way for once).

AND I finally learned how to use Audacity! So that’s a win, huh!

BCM112: Annotated Bibliography

Aamer Rahman: The University of Western Sydney Rebrand

This YouTube video depicts segments of a stand-up comedy set based entirely around mocking the recent rebranding of the University of Western Sydney. Comedian Aamer Rahman merely points out absurdities throughout the institution’s new promotional look-book, which lovingly describes the reasoning behind new branding decisions. The video does not necessarily have a strong purpose in pushing my artefact forward outside of serving as further inspiration and reasserting the notion that, as a branding parody, UOWasteland does not need to carry with it a powerful political assertion in order to be affective. It instead presents some conceptual significance by reinforcing the idea that calling attention to the inherent ridiculousness already present in corporate branding culture is enough of a goal for the project to work towards on its own.


B&T Magazine on University Advertisement Parody

This online magazine article features both a popular parody video of a Sydney University advertisement and the ad that it was originally based on, focusing on the positive reception and impact of the humorous work and the powerful social and political messages that such a parody can carry. The piece also exemplifies the ways in which a branding hijack or parody may be used for entertainment or political purposes outside of directly rejecting the brand producing the original promotional material, as the parody in this case targets the parodyist’s own university, University of Sydney, rather than the University of Western Sydney which made the advertisement. This source is relevant to my own parody project in the way it highlights a non-aggressive approach to audience appropriation, however, as a primarily descriptive work its place in discussion surrounding my digital artefact would be limited.


Brand UOW Brand Guidelines 2011

The previous University of Wollongong brand guidelines handbook gives the opportunity for brilliant insight into the university’s communication and marketing standard. The full guidebook includes breakdowns on the elements required of UOW associated imagery, among other things. Of specific interest to my project are the guidelines on the graphical representation of real people in which it requires they seem candid and authentic, and the way these regulations interact with the final promotional images put out by official UOW channels, ultimately sending mixed messages. Unfortunately, only previews of certain pages are available freely online, however, these pages do include the broad promotional goals of UOW along with their general brand overview for a time period my project is heavily concerned with. As such, this content is of mixed use as a strictly freely available source online.


Corporate Parody / Culture Jamming Prezi

This Prezi by Audrey Halter looks at the ways in which artists utilise Corporate Parody and Culture Jamming in their work, touching on concepts such as the critique of corporate culture through the emulation of it. As an amateur presentation, the Prezi serves more as a gateway to further sources than an effective source in itself, especially as it is missing the essential live presenter element to flesh out the concepts it begins to engage with. It is also not focused as much or as clearly around new media advertisement and branding, making its usefulness to my project much more tenuous.


Facebook Help Centre: Page Management

The Facebook Help Centre includes a section dedicated to assisting page management and specifically how to increase the reach of posts made to a Facebook page. Information set out on the page answers only particular questions posed on the page itself, leaving little room for individual queries, and gives fairly shallow answers. The page does not offer too much insight into the inner workings of a Facebook page or best practices of the medium, rather, the target audience of the page seems to be page managers who are unfamiliar with the Facebook platform in general. Additionally, suggestions provided are of little help to newly begun pages which haven’t the follower base or level of engagement yet which is required for an effective reading of page analytics.


The Huffington Post: ‘A picture’s worth a thousand … what?’

This brief article on The Huffington Post discusses critically the development of image based marketing and the ways in which it can be both beneficial and detrimental to the product or brand from which it originates. The piece touches on issues such as image instability and how easily a message of advertisement is altered upon contact with an online audience, as well as the assumed interactivity that comes with advertising to such audiences via wordless imagery. The focus on how marketing images may be appropriated and their meaning changed by outside forces is particularly apt to my project and engages with relevant ideas of audience power in feedback and mass communication online.


Official UOW Twitter

The official University of Wollongong Twitter account provides the majority of primary source images for my digital artefact in the form of promotional media to be re-captioned and parodied on UOWasteland pages. Promotional content posted to this account gives a reliable indication of the style of branding the University wishes to put forth through its marketing and exemplifies a peculiar disjunct between its media and message. The account also encourages use of an associated hashtag (#ThisIsUOW) which is useful for increasing the reach of UOWasteland posts to an ideal audience. As a source for primary content it does not have much critical or theoretical worth but is invaluable in the practical role it fulfils.


Pranking Rhetoric: “Culture Jamming” as Media Activism

Christine Harold’s essay on “Culture Jamming” discusses the place of brand hijacking and playful appropriation of promotional material in social and political activism, and argues that such methods can be highly effective. The essay is closely related conceptually to the theory of audience engagement, interaction and feedback through new media that my digital artefact is concerned with. Having an academic source which presents on these ideas of subversive audience dialogue with and against marketing will be of great value to the project, making a solid addition to the artefact’s theoretical base.


Small Business Trends: ‘What is Hashtag Hijacking?’

This short article describes the practice of “Hashtag Hijacking”, giving examples of two prominent forms of the act and following up with some suggestions of preventative measures that a business might take to avoid the damage this could do to a brand. The post is written quite definitively from the perspective of a brand which is being hijacked and thus presents a fairly skewed opinion of hashtag hijacking, its ethics and what it is used for. The acknowledgement of audience intercommunication and feedback via subversive social media practices is relevant to theoretical concepts at work in the UOWasteland project, but this source is of little use to the artefact assignment in either a practical or critical sense.


SurePayroll Infographic Blog

This particular post to the SurePayroll Blog breaks down statistical information on user engagement across social media, providing a simple and easy to read infographic which breaks down ideal and inadvisable timing for posting content. The translated statistics cover relevant information for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr and Google+, including tips on the types of posts which receive the most engagement from site users on each. With only a few of these mediums being of immediate interest to my project the post is not as helpful as it had the potential to be, however, where applicable to UOWasteland social media accounts it gives significant aid in the area of best practices for interaction and engagement of posts.

Hitler Rants About Shifts in Transmedia Strategies

After looking at the Angry Hitler meme videos in Ted’s lecture on Transmedia practices, I thought making my own version of the meme on the relevant topic would be a fun way to tackle this week’s blog post.

A couple of things that aren’t covered in the video (because it’s shockingly difficult to fit the entirety of your thoughts to match Hitler’s shouting, strangely enough):

The MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) isn’t quite so simplistic n example as it’s made out to be by Adolf here. While the Utopic reward-rather-than-exclusion system was fairly true of the standard for MCU’s build up to the first Avengers movie, beyond there the definition of what is reward and what is exclusion has gotten murkier. For example, Agents of Shield as a stand alone series begins somewhat able to function without prior knowledge of its blockbuster cousins, however, as the show moves on, it incorporates major story arcs such as the attack on New York by the Chitauri in Avengers, the collapse of SHIELD in Winter Soldier, etc. The show becomes harder for an audience to engage with if they haven’t consumed those other texts, which by necessity are now given primacy over the TV program. There’s still sort of this venn diagram in place where the texts can reward someone for having been engaged with extra curricular content, exclude someone for not being engaged with extra curricular content, or do both at the same time. Sometimes the lines get fuzzy and it’s hard to tell which section ends where, but hopefully we’ll continue to develop more works that fall primarily into the first category when it comes to transmedia practices.