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The Town Crier! Announcements! / 2.0.17 Upgrade
« on: January 23, 2020, 08:04:42 PM »
Dear friends,

The forum has just been upgraded to a new version of SMF which includes greater provision for ensuring members are aware of their data protection rights. One of the effects of this is likely to be that users will need to log in again and formally accept Exilian's data security and privacy policy. We apologise for the inconvenience: this will be a one-off occurrence.

Best wishes,

Jubal (Basileus & Megadux)

The Town Crier! Announcements! / Election Results, Jan 2020
« on: January 23, 2020, 05:40:01 PM »
Election Results

This month we welcome GMD back to staff as Spatharios (Moderator), and Tusky has stepped up to be on the admin team as Sebastokrator (Voting Members' Officer) after several terms as Spatharios. The full election results were as follows:

Regularly Elected Staff

Jubal (FIF) re-elected unopposed as Basileus, 6 votes to 0 with 0 abstentions
Tusky (Ind) elected unopposed as Sebastokrator, 6 votes to 0 with 0 abstentions
GMD (Ind) elected unopposed as Spatharios, 6 votes to 0 with 0 abstentions

The post of Tribounos was uncontested and remains vacant.

Ratification of Permanent Staff

Jubal (FIF) ratified as Megadux, 4 votes to 0 with 1 abstention
Glaurung (Ind) ratified as Sakellarios, 5 votes to 0 with 0 abstentions
Lizard (Ind) ratified as Technikos, 2 votes to 1 with 2 abstentions

Thanks to everyone who voted and to all our staff: the next regular elections will be in June, with opportunities for joining the staff team in the meantime likely to be announced in the Questions & Suggestions forum.

The Town Crier! Announcements! / Updates from the Forge 36: New Year 2020
« on: January 02, 2020, 01:20:03 AM »
Issue 36: New Year 2020


Welcome, friends, to the two thousand and twenties - a new year and a new decade! It's amazing to see the good ship Exilian, members, modders, llamas, pangolins and all, sail through into yet another year, and we hope it's been a fantastic holiday season for those of you celebrating various festivals around the world. As we head on into the new future, lots about the world can feel uncertain, but we'll go into it as we always have - with kindness, a good community, and masses of nerd and geek creativity to deal with whatever comes up. We look forward to sharing it with you!

We've got a packed issue for you with ten pieces, and we've had more content that we can't fit in across the site too recently, including new music on our ExilianMedia YouTube channel, the release of the Rome Total War: Vanilla Extended mod and Jubal's travelogue from Bordeaux. We're hoping to have more articles coming up soon - Exilian Articles may have been quiet in recent months but we have a lot of backlogged pieces that should find their way to a computer screen near you in the near future. If you've got something you want to say, please do check out our writing guidelines: as a non-profit organisation with no income streams ourselves we can't financially remunerate authors, but we do provide editing services and feedback to help writers for our articles section improve their skills.

And so as ever, onto the updates...


  • Editorial
  • Game Development
    • Snowfall in the Skies: Utherwald Press Updates
    • The Chains That Bound Me
    • Windmill Kings: Dark World
    • Will you find Eternal Hope?
    • Kickstarter success for Void Eclipse!
    • More on the Roadwarden's Journey...
  • Writing & Arts
    • Character art by Tusky!
    • New Free SoundImage Music
    • Couplets and Curses - Jubal's Poems
  • Miscellany
    • Want to know more about the depths of Exilian's past?


Snowfall in the Skies: Utherwald Press Updates

Our resident Savage Worlds TTRPG setting designers, Utherwald Press continue to put out regular blogposts to add extra content to their  Their updates in recent months include a range of new aircraft for the arctic-dieselpunk Frozen Skies setting, from the near antiquated Trodaí Fighter favoured by sky pirates who can't find a better option to the sleek new Raven Fighters at the cutting edge of the Commonwealth's technology. There's also been new expansions of world lore around the creepily well ordered Iron Collective and the Commonwealth's more southerly outpost of Orduesh. Outside the world of Frozen Skies, we've had a new adventure for Keep The Home Fires Burning, an in-development Savage Worlds setting based in post-WWI London, with the Spanish Flu epidemic rife in the streets and strange and dark creatures beginning to creep in around this exhausted and disjointed society.

Finally, we've recently had new adventure scenario the Duskfall Run - in the Shrouded Days, the polar night when each year in Aleyska draws to a close, many of those who make their living in the frozen wastes head south to see family and avoid the worst of the long night. Some, however, leave the journey too late, which brings its own risks of a dangerous journey through darkening skies... and one which sky pirates, themselves well used to trying to force planes down in bad conditions, will happily try to exploit.

As ever, you can check out all of Utherwald's posts on their blog and via their Exilian forum - and we look forward to more in the next year!

The Chains That Bound Me

Yobob's The Chains That Bound Me is a classic narrative RPG where the player character must navigate through a gritty existence in a mining town under the thumb of a deeply oppressive state, with tax collectors marching armed through the streets, frequent examples made of those who dare to stand up... and, nonetheless, the smell of rebellion in the air. Amid this, the player, a mysterious potential rebel called Arriados, is unwilling to support an uprising in which many may die - but is both deeply intertwined with the rebel cause, and has another, greater threat looming in the shadows that he must ultimately confront.

The main game is currently on pause to allow for the release of some smaller projects in the setting, but you can get the demo which takes you through the first part of the story, and as well as taking a look at that you can regularly find Yobob on social media where he's continuing to make fun games happen, with the promise of a new short horror title early in 2020.

Windmill Kings: Dark World

The dark wizards have the aesthetic nailed. Also horned, spiked, and painted black and purple.

Bigosaur's Windmill Kings has a new update! In the original range of the story, the King managed to defeat the various soldiers of the wizard's puppet king, rebuild his armies, withstand counter-invasion from the east, and thus reclaim his realm. Now, though, he has been transported to the wizards' dark realm, where, isolated, he must face new foes, rally a fresh army to his banner, and defeat the dark wizards once and for all.

Windmill Kings is mainly a game designed towards multiplayer play, as a quickfire strategy game where you rapidly build troops to throw at your opponent's castle and balance the use of mighty magical spells and advancing your forces. Giants, ninjas, rains of fireballs and deadly marksmen can all be part of your battle plans. In Dark World, new tougher enemy line infantry and a different pattern of unlocking troops and forces gives you a new and changed gameplay experience in campaign mode.

Will you find Eternal Hope?

"Hello tiny person. Where can I get a scarf that cool?"

From Double Hit Games, new faces for us on Exilian, Eternal Hope is a platformer that follows Ti'bi, a bereaved character who goes in search of lost his beloved's soul and must travel between his own world and that of the parallel shadow realm to do so. As well as running, jumping, moving obstacles, and using your scarf as a parachute, the shadow realm offers a whole range of possibilities for solving puzzles, as the strange and often corrupted creatures from it can both help and hinder you on your quest. Accompanied by your winged light-ball companion you can platform and swing your way through a whole range of beautifully rendered areas towards your ultimate goal.

There is a Steam demo available for the game, which is very worth a look and explains the basic narrative, as well as showcasing the carefully crafted. You can also check out the game's trailer here or at the Eternal Hope website below. The game is scheduled for Steam and Xbox One release in 2020.

Kickstarter success for Void Eclipse!

Yet more new face in the form of Tau Ceti Studios, creators of the strategic card-play game Void Eclipse. Enabling players to explore an immesive sci-fi world and choose their path and character evolution through it, Void Eclipse allows you to explore, expand, and exploit the resources of different planets on your route to victory. The main game factions are the ice-bound Varegon who use bio-suits and energy weapons to maintain a mighty galactic empire, and the virus-like Solehr who have wrought havoc on the Varegons' mighty plans. Turn based card battles decide the owners of planetary territories, and as the game continues, the player can learn more about the origins of these peoples and how they came to be duelling for the land and soul of the universe they inhabit.

Void Eclipse has successfully had its kickstarter funded at the end of November, which is a great outcome - it's always a very difficult bar to cross. The game will be released on Steam with a planned release date of May 2020.

More on the Roadwarden's Journey...

We've had many more updates from Aure, aka Moral Anxiety Studios. His current project Roadwarden is a story adventure game where you must make your way along the roads as you explore and guard outlying regions with strange beliefs, creatures, and characters to negotiate your way around. It is the latest creation from his Viaticum setting, a fantasy world where humans struggle with the power of the wilderness around them and their efforts are far more directed towards protecting themselves from the mighty creatures and disaster threats of the wilderness. As with previous games like Tales From Windy Meadow, Roadwarden is very much focused on character and not combat, with decisions you make about how you present yourself, your emotion, and even what you wear changing how the various people you meet will interact with you.

Recent updates have included new menu screens (above), as well as many new locations and text sections as the game's world and map progressively expand and its range of characters gets further fleshed out. You can also now wishlist the game on Steam. Mechanical/gameplay changes have included the addition of actual deaths for the player, rather than just slowing you down, from certain encounters, new interim screen road sections to show betwen locations, and a redesign of how armour works which will be revealed soon - much still to discover on the road!


Character art by Tusky!

We've got a lovely new thread with Tusky, one of our core stalwarts on Exilian for a number of years now, sharing some of his digital artwork with us. It turns out he has far more strings to his bow than just being our senior moderator, developer of games including Escape from BioStation and upcoming jousting game Tourney, and an all round good egg - he's a pretty dab hand at this 2d artwork thing as well.

Meeting the characters of the various pictures is every bit as fun as seeing the pictures - we all tend to know things by attaching them to stories, and art is no exception. Fortunately Tusky has provided on that front too, from the mysterious red knight Astor, who with his banner of a chess piece marches to mete out the destruction of the wicked (perhaps in hope of one day purging the pain and shame of his own past), to the acquisitive Thanbert, here on the right, a cheerful gnome despite his venerable age whose chief interest is acquiring and dealing in unusual trinkets.

We are, of course, all looking forward to seeing more. Hats off!


New Free SoundImage Music

New free-to-use sounds from Eric Matyas include the twinkling "The Skies Are Clearing", which imagines the return to normality after a storm, the humming exploring theme "Of Legends and Fables", and the jazz-humour "What the Cluck?!", as well as sound effects from electronic and telelphone static, to industrial drone noises, to the rather mysteriously titled "underwater rumble" - we're looking forward to seeing how they can be used in a whole range of projects.

Eric's website SoundImage is a huge archive of free resources that can be used with credit in both commercial and hobbyist creative projects. As well as the huge array of background music on offer, there are textures and bits of game art available as well - and if you want to know how it all came about, we interviewed Eric back in August for you! The site is organised by theme so you can easily find the stuff you need for your project, with nearly 2000 sound tracks and clips available. Whether you're making games, films, or other creative projects, it's a resource that's always very worth knowing about.

Couplets and Curses - Jubal's Poems

"So I will dance your tears into sunbeams..."

Finally in this section, we've had yet more poetic forays from Jubal, on subjects as diverse as the new year, city life, and the Warhammer Fantasy mercenary regiment Richter Kreugar's Cursed Company! Jubal's poetry archive stretches back to 2008, and covers huge ranges of topics and styles over time, including song lyrics some of which have ended up recorded and on our Exilian Media YouTube Channel. There's also a special New Year Poem just out to welcome us all into 2020, on the theme of why we celebrate new years - and that it's not so much that we do it to mark a change in reality, but to hope for one that we can make ourselves. Some interesting thoughts to carry into the new year!

Our poetry and writing section has had many other contributors over the years and is always open to newcomers and new entrants, so please do jump in whenever you feel like doing so: all levels, styles, and types are very welcome! It's a great place to get feedback on work, discuss or vent about the writing you're doing, and have a friendly space in which to showcase your latest projects. Even if you're not a writer but you'd like to drop by and comment on and discuss the work of others, please do head over there - additional angles and opinions can all be very much useful and welcome.


Want to know more about the depths of Exilian's past?

The 2020s are the third decade in which Exilian has been here, and as of March 18 (before our next issue), Exilian will have existed for 12 years. We've done a lot in that time - and there are records to show it. We've always felt it was important to chart the course of the site over time, with detailed notes on the site's history and perspectives from different members available in the Exilian: A History thread. As an unusually run and created website, democratically run and owned by our membership, the community aspect of Exilian has always been important to us and it's great when new people can come in and poke through the dusty archives of the site's past - and, of course, contribute so their own names and projects get inscribed in the annals for the future. Could your name, too, be in Exilian: A History one of these days?

Thank you as ever for reading your humble human-and-llama team's efforts to let you know about cool creative stuff. We hope you've enjoyed it, and we'd really appreciate your feedback in the comments, by email to megadux at exilian dot co dot uk, or via any of our Exilian social media channels. If you've got something you think should be featured, we usually pick up stuff posted in the relevant areas of the forum, but you can also always contact us directly to chat about specific items and we're happy to help. See you in March, and stay cosy/cool (depending on hemisphere) until then!

The Town Crier! Announcements! / Happy Christmas
« on: December 25, 2019, 04:53:50 PM »
H A P P Y   C H R I S T M A S !

Happy Christmas, Hannukah, Solstice, Yule, and other winter holidays from all of us at Exilian! it's been a fun year with lots of ongoing projects, new and old faces, and things continuing as ever. Stay tuned though - we have bigger plans for 2020, and we hope you'll be along for the ride then. Until then, season's greetings and hope you and yours are all having a wonderful end to 2019.

The Boozer / Wine of the Sun, Port of the Moon: A Trip to Bordeaux
« on: December 23, 2019, 05:19:06 PM »
Wine of the Sun, Port of the Moon: A Trip to Bordeaux

My journey to Bordeaux nearly didn’t start. The government of Emmanuel Macron, attempting to push through pension reforms the French public sector unions saw as punitive, had provoked widespread strike action which was grounding planes and leaving the train network almost unusable. Going to Bordeaux in such circumstances was an odd reminder of the contradictions of the British viewpoints of France I grew up with – we simultaneously think of France as more argumentative, unionised,  and also as effete, cultured, inherently somehow posh compared to ourselves. I did arrive nonetheless, by the rather less pleasant, more expensive, and less environmentally friendly means of a short-haul flight. Having taught my undergraduate class that morning and hopped to the airport, I passed through Charles de Gaulle, who has not necessarily been improved by his reincarnation as a Paris airport. Eventually I was sitting on plane two, nosing through a lesser known Fenimore Cooper novel I had picked up earlier in the year, and imagining what lay ahead. I knew very little of Bordeaux and had not had much time for prior research, so beyond knowing I was heading to a decently sized southern French city that did wine quite seriously, I wasn’t sure quite what I was flying into.

The first answer was that I was flying into bad weather. My initial views of Bordeaux were dark and rain-filled, rattling on a bus into the city from the airport as large modern blocks loomed above me. Most parts of most cities, certainly the large ones, do not conform to the guidelines of the imagination or the tourist brochure. Travellers, of course, make our natural bee-lines for the centres and the noteworthy spots: but perhaps the writers of travelogues should not be so quick to do so, for in doing so we create cities of the mind that are different in almost every respect to those as experienced by their inhabitants. The process then becomes circular, as the cities are compelled to make use of such advantages to take account of the tourism and trade, which in turn is then fed to the next bands of unwary travellers.

The wine monument and Aquitaine Gate archway.
When at last I was able to take a stop between the bus and the tram that would take me down to the suburb of Pessac for some sleep, I found a very brief lull in the rain. I was greeted by a mysterious pillar, in fact a relatively recent (2005) monument commemorating the city’s wine industry: the first sign of the Bordeaux that the, albeit one too oblique for me to appreciate whilst plane-tired and in need of food. I regret not taking a closer look despite passing it more than once: if you do so, do note the turtle sculptures at the base which I entirely missed on my own trip. A large semi-triumphal arch marks the spot of the old Aquitaine Gate, and I walked past rather than through it to reach a cluster of fast food shops around what would have once been the entrance to the city (I ultimately opted for Les Burgers de Colette, who were very friendly and the food was very good).

The triumphal arch may not be old, but in its implied modelling of a classical past it nonetheless captures a great deal of the city’s history, for this was indeed once a Roman city. Whilst the name, first recorded as Burdigala, may well be from a now mostly lost relative of Basque, it is likely the Romans who first started planting the Gironde region to the west of the city with vineyards. It was the Romans too whose slaves mined British tin and lead which, sitting as Burdigala on the transport routes, built the city’s wealth until it became the capital of Roman Aquitaine. Metal, wine, money, the salt sea and slave labour – all were to come back again in Bordeaux’s history. The eighteenth century builders of this triumphal arch sought to bathe their Bordeaux in the light of Roman imperial glory, but it was as much the prosaic and at times brutal underpinnings of that past that they mirrored.

The conference I had come to attend was the fifth (though my first) in the Linked Pasts series, dealing with connecting historical data-sets about places and people. I found that I knew rather more of the people there than I expected, which took some of my prior nervousness out of the occasion, and the atmosphere was pleasantly laid back. The presence of lunchtime wine felt like another gently nudged reminder of where we were (not to mention the food, which was finger-food sufficiently cleverly put together that it bordered on the impractical). Bordeaux’s university campuses are large and stretch southwest from the centre along the B tram line, and it was in the Archeopole building of the university that we had our meetings.

The evening between the two days of conference I was there for (having had to miss the first day due to strikes and teaching alike) was notable for two reasons. First, it was notable in that we went to have an excellent, though rather painful for my student-scale food budget, meal at Le Charabia, a bistro in town. The duck is excellent and the wine available in two litre bottles, should you ever happen to pass. Second, it was a notable evening in that it was the twelfth of December 2019, when the UK’s Conservative party managed to break through against a weakened Labour party and deliver Boris Johnson a convincing majority in parliament, effectively the first strong majority Conservative government of my lifetime. As a liberal, this was a somewhat grim eventuality, and I was glad of the friendly shared anger of my academic colleagues. This European port that had so often reached grasping hands out to the world, once the centre of English political play upon the European stage, was a strange place drink to the defeat of British pro-Europeanism. Upon seeing the exit poll I moved from wine to gin – it seemed like the time.

Bordeaux Cathedral, dimly lit, looms in the darkness.
The next day, just to add insult to injury, my small laptop had a hard drive failure. I had to make my own way into town to search for food, and to add ignominy to the aforementioned insult and injury the Bordeaux winds shredded my umbrella – twisting it to the point where the spokes sheared and snapped beyond repair. Huddling under the flopping, half-broken mess that remained, I got off the tram outside the Museum of Aquitaine and walked until I passed the Cathedral of Saint Andrew for the first time, its sides lit up but its tall spire rising unlit into the wind, rain and gloom. Auspicious it was not.

I turned right at the Hotel de Ville (town hall, for those unfamiliar with the nomenclature), and found myself at La Mama, a pleasant enough Italian pizzeria which I can recommend. Once fed, back huddled under the half-broken umbrella, I went for a walk all the same, up past the grand colonnade of the opera house and eventually to the river, the swollen and angry Garonne. This is the bend of the river that was known to ages past as the Port of the Moon, so named for being a broad crescent-shaped bend in the river into which vessels could come to dock. The crescent moon first appeared on the arms of Bordeaux in the medieval period, and an emblem of three such crescents intertwined still represents the city today. Tonight the moon-water was cratered and scarred as it tossed in the wind and rain, while high above the stormy river the actual moon was far obscured from view. I turned my back on the wet plaza, passed through the medieval Porte de Cailhau, and returned to Pessac on the tram.

The next day, the Museum of Aquitaine was my first destination. One of its first and chiefest treasures on display was the ‘Laussel Venus’, a 25,000 year old carved woman from some way inland in the region. She stands with an almost sagging wide belly and hips, her breasts heavy, one hand towards her vulva and the other holding what appears to be a horn. What sort of expression she might have had, though, we cannot say, for her face has been long since lost to the eroding ravages of time. Scratches around her hips give the indication of stretch marks; scratches on the horn number thirteen vertical lines, a pattern also notable on numerous other bone fragments from the Stone Age past – it is not after all a cornucopia, or a drinking horn created to wait thousands of years for Bordelais wine to fill it, but a lunar calendar. The women of Aquitaine, long before Aquitaine was thought of, looked to and worked with the moon before the Port of the Moon could even have been imagined, with the motion of the Venus’ other hand indicating the relationship to menstrual cycles. It may be that the horn is a direct representation of the crescent moon, or it may be simply in reflection of the use of bone and horn to make such calendars. Thousands of years later, when the settlement that would become known as Burdigala was first founded, the people who made the Laussel Venus had long since passed even deeper into history from the ancient Aquitanian founders of the settlement than those settlers are to us today. The moon shone through its phases much the same, though.

The Place de la Bourse, heart of Bordeaux's 18th century mercantilism.
Tracing Bordeaux through time, I walked through the draining of its wetlands to expand the city in 50 BC, the heaping of Campanian amphorae from the time when Bordeaux bought rather than sold the red and white gold for which it would one day be famous, the Romans bringing serpent-twined columns and distant gods, before the Chi-Rho started appearing on tombstones and Christianity stamped its mark. It might not have been forever thus – Muslim forces from Spain sacked the city in 732 – but the rise of the Carolingians put paid first to Muslim potential for advances into France and, with far more painstaking difficulty, the repeated attempts by the Aquitanian dukes to assert or claim their independence, often combining their region and title with that of Vasconia (that is, Gascony, to the south). Centuries of uneasy recognition by the Aquitanians of Frankish sovereignty might have been brought to a harmonious close by the 1137 marriage of Aliénor, heir to the dukedom, to Louis VII of France - but then, after a frustrating marriage that failed to produce a male heir, the marriage was annulled and she remarried to Henri Plantagenet, who shortly after became King of England. Bordeaux was the heart of England’s French possessions, not to mention one of the most major sources for wine sold to England, for three centuries thereafter, as gryphons, saints and demons took their positions and roosts around the city’s architecture, until in 1453 a final English attempt at reconquest was beaten back at nearby Castillon. It was perhaps only then that France could consider Bordeaux genuinely among its possessions (and even then, the French crown was to get more trouble from the region in later centuries).

The museum’s lower floor traces this journey: its upper floor turns to more recent, and painful, matters. Bordeaux settled into a quiet obscurity between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, but the arrival of full throated imperialism brought new opportunities for a potentially sizeable Atlantic port. Bordelais settlers moved out to the sugar islands of the Caribbean, their home city boomed with commerce, the city’s vineyards were invested in and expanded – and slavery on a vast scale funnelled money into its streets and buildings. Little model reconstructions of a Saint-Domingue plantation, native artefacts from around the world, and portraits of Toussaint L’Ouverture were accompanied by detailed discussions of the pre-colonial slave systems that colonial era traders exploited and expanded. It all felt strangely more distant than the medieval and ancient parts of the exhibition – with the further off parts of the past, the temptation and effort is to bring them closer, while for the more recent centuries, perhaps, the collective memories and reverberations are too sharp. We grasp for context all the more when we cannot, or will not, grasp the enormity of the pain that is laid bare by taking into account the grand sweep of the past.

Having completed my look around the museum, I picked up a fluffy mammoth as a souvenir and an umbrella to replace my broken one, and headed out through the streets. In the city’s centre these are a pleasant eighteenth century mixture of sizes and types, less high and block-built than I was used to seeing in Vienna and feeling closer to equivalent aged areas of British cities in style – though the expanse and consistency of that period architecture is greater. Juggling umbrella, bags, and just-purchased food, I mused on an apple tartlet and let my feet take me out through another of the city’s huge medieval gates, the Porte Saint-Eloi, dedicated to the saint of metalworkers usually known as Eligius in English. The current tower is much of an age with that of the Cailhau Gate, and has a huge belfry with an eighteenth century bell. The scale of both gates is vast, and they are showpiece architecture, built in a period when the French monarchy was no longer seriously concerned with defending Bordeaux from nearby threats (the Cailhau gate commemorated the French victory at the 1495 Battle of Fornovo, opening the Italian Wars that dominated the first half of the sixteenth century in that peninsula). Bordeaux if anything lost prestige once the Hundred Years’ War ended, having lost its status as a key centre of England’s continental possessions, and with it the English wine trade that had been at the core of its medieval prosperity.

Heading southeast from here, the streets were a clutter of smaller shops, many of them with piles of tagines outside and more generally a noticeable North African cultural heritage. The modern Bordelais are a people of a post-Imperial port city, their ties in many cases stretching out across myriad parts of the world dominated until very recently by the French state. Saint Michael’s Basilica, and particularly its separate belfry, stand tall here – originally a small eighth century chapel outside the medieval city walls, frequented by medieval sailors and expanded over time, the basilica now stands as an oddly appropriate if not entirely in place elder statesman among a relaxed mess of eateries and small shops that feels a good deal less manicured than the city centre. By the riverside nearby, I passed clusters of noisy cafes where young and old men (and in these they were all men) gathered around tables, smoked, and watched football on large TV screens.

The Girondins monument - liberty breaks her chains atop it.
Walking by the port of the moon for the second time on my trip, this time the rain was lighter, but its past felt heavier. A huddle of huts selling Christmas odds and ends felt almost out of place against the long backdrop of stately eighteenth century architecture. I did not go over the Pont de Pierre, Bordeaux’s first major river bridge, only completed in 1822, but instead wandered down past the Cailhau gate again and to get a better daylight look at the Place de la Bourse – that is, place of the purse – the heart of that eighteenth century mercantile revolution that underpins what is still the architectural backbone of the modern city. The huge, elegant palace was made a little lopsided by the large car advertisement that covered the scaffolding on one side, and the famous water mirror opposite, a recent innovation with a low water pool allowing tourists to see in reflection as well as reality the majesty of the square, was – ironically enough for a rainy day – dry. That is not, of course, to say that it was anything short of spectacular: perhaps living too close to the Habsburg edifices of Vienna has ruined my sense of perspective for eighteenth century architecture, but the Place de la Bourse nonetheless says ostentation like few other places manage. The car advertisement if anything provided an ironic reminder of the whole purpose of the place, for it is easy for us to allow the architectural remnants of recent centuries to fade into a gently historicised, aesthetically attractive backdrop – a reminder of the brash and frequently amoral spirit which powered the construction of such nigh-ethereal work is a helpfully sharp grounding point.

Continuing downriver a little and turning away from the port of the moon brought me to one of Bordeaux’s largest and most famous monuments – for a city whose facades were so often built upon slavery, it is the city’s contribution to French liberty that takes pride of place. In the French revolution, the elected representatives from the Gironde, Bordeaux’s wine-growing hinterland, formed the core of a notable if loose faction, less bloodily fanatical than the more diehard followers of Robespierre but strongly internationalist and in favour of spreading anti-monarchism across Europe. Their Montagnard opponents, dominant in Paris itself, were ultimately able to seize control and conducted, right across France, a brutal purge of the “Girondins”, as they had become known. The Girondins’ monument stands in front of a vast public square, Bordeaux’s memory to its own political martyrs: atop it, making high ideals a literal feature of the city, a great bronze depiction of liberty breaks her chains.

Inside L'Intendant, looking up at the spiralling floors of bottles.
A nearby park proved to be closed, so I turned again and headed, passing through Bordeaux’s main Christmas market, back into town. Here I came to L’Intendant, a wine shop specialising in the Gironde’s red gold. Peering in from the street, it seems a tiny, almost cramped space with almost no floor area – but going in reveals the spiralling truth. A staircase winds up around and around the shop going directly upwards, with a curving shelf of wine bottles going round and round the shop, divided by sub-region of the Gironde with the price tending upwards with the stairs. Whilst much of the day to day trade is tourists popping in and getting a slightly nicer souvenir on the ground floor, the upper reaches of the shop display bottles behind locked casings worth thousands of euros each. Bordeaux’s wines are mainly red with just the occasional white, but it was not always thus: the ‘clairet’, a lighter wine best described as a deep pink rosé, was the medieval specialism of the region – as Bordeaux moved to produce more full bodied red wines, the English use of the word adapted to follow, hence ‘claret’ still being used today for the Bordelais reds.

I then headed to Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, winding my way back into those paler vintages of Bordeaux’s medieval past. The building was consecrated by Pope Urban II in 1096 on the eve of the First Crusade, and was the site of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s ill-fated first marriage just over forty years later. The modern building reached more or less its current form by the fourteenth century, with, like Saint Michael’s Basilica, a separate bell-tower. It was not well lit inside, and other than a few paintings and the ostentatious organ there was little of the baroque overexcitement that so often festoons the inside of great Catholic monuments. Its medieval gloom was all at once comforting and oppressive, and the grand building felt smaller for it. A few notes bellowed out of the organ as I walked around, but for the most part it was a quiet place, tourist murmurs floating along only occasionally. I paced down the aisle alongside the shadow of a shadow of a thirteen year old girl who hundreds of years before had been told to marry the King of France, and sat for a moment to consider the gloom. For Eleanor, for the resulting fame of Bordeaux wine – and thus perhaps even for Bordeaux’s later glories – this place’s dark clarity felt like a pivot point, the quiet eye of the Bordeaux storm.

One of Pessac's starlings on my last morning.
Back outside, the huge Christmas tree in front of the main cathedral doors blazed to welcome me back into the storm itself. Going via parliament square, I headed back to the Christmas market for a final look around. The various stalls were not much different to those that one finds at any such market in Europe – expensive cheeses, unusual ingredients, winter clothing, all manner of confectionery – but there were a few particular hints of the local region, with some macaron sellers from the Basque country, Atlantic salt, and some local food sellers. Perhaps most curiously there was no wine (except cups of vin chaud, the practice of mulled hot wine having spread across Europe probably as early as the Roman era). The market had been unbearably packed with people a couple of hours earlier, but now it was just starting to quieten again as the evening drew on, and I bowed to the storm and the commercial hubbub and rushed around buying cheese, salt, and other things to take away with me. Perhaps it was just my tiredness and buffeted emotions, and processing everything from the museum’s posters from Bordeaux’s literal exhibitions of colonised peoples in the 1890s, to the height of its loud ideals of liberty, to the woman and her child I had just passed huddled in blankets on the street, to the throb and hum and noise and warmth of the market… but there did seem to be something continually asking for more about Bordeaux: it seems a city addicted to the world, and the world to it.

The next morning, it was time to go: I said farewell to my hosts, packed my mammoth and my cheese, and stepped out the door to – at last – sunshine. Sparrows hopped between the rooves of Pessac, a leafy suburb largely comprised of one and two storey buildings. Stopping at Berenil's, a very good little nearby boulangerie/patisserie, I bought a chocolatine (the local name for what is better known elsewhere as a pain au chocolat), and ambled down the road, blinking in the sudden clarity and calm as the shining iridescence of starling feathers flashed in metallic greens and blues from the tree branches. I made my way back past the arch at the Aquitaine gate, and two flights and several hours later I flew home into Vienna, after dark and in the clear.

It is internal contradictions and tensions that make a person or a place genuinely three dimensional, and Bordeaux is emphatically a four dimensional city, with those tensions stretching back through deep ages past, reflecting each other in the port of the moon century after century. It is a city whose greatest monuments are to those who fought for liberty, amid beautiful architecture funded by the profits of sugar and slavery. It is a quintessentially French city that has so often rejected France, a city of kings and sailors which threw its people out to the world and let the world bleed into it in return. Perhaps it is all for the best that Bordeaux has wine, its red silken gold, and the haze of nights when the port of the moon breaks and tosses with its namesake’s reflection – many cities are burdened with the weight of long history, and at least Bordeaux can pride itself on its ability to soften the edges.

Exilian Folk Club / Zero She Flies Chords/Lyrics
« on: December 17, 2019, 09:41:57 PM »
Posting this here because I keep meaning to work out the chords to just about the one song I know from this band.


Out here on the water wide
(Row, my lady, row)
Shadows dance and strange birds fly
(Go, my lady go)
Cotton fields are growing high
(Row, my lady, row)
Hands reach up to touch the sky
(Go, my lady go)

And your words will echo through the darkest night
Faith, love, oh please, won't you show me a guiding light
And even if I run I know that I am right
Keep me safe
Keep me warm

Spin and swirl and breaking free
(Row, my lady, row)
Withypool won't wither me
(Go, my lady go)
Hang my woes from the hanging tree
(Row, my lady, row)
Mercy, love, and mercy me
(Go, my lady go)

And your words will echo through the darkest night
Faith, love, oh please, won't you show me a guiding light
And even if I run I know that I am right
Keep me safe
Keep me warm

I'll also admit to not understanding the lyrics well, though it's a very pretty tune. Withypool seems to be a particular place in England though I don't know what relationship it has to the other elements of the song, and the combination of cotton and hangings makes me wonder whether I should be in southern England or the southern US. It's an odd one. But good nonetheless.

The World of Kavis / A Storm Over Gemiscare - Second Run
« on: December 08, 2019, 12:03:25 AM »
Second time I've played this story. Notes this time will make sense mostly for me, unless you read the previous writeup to get the thread of the adventure.

Spoiler (click to show/hide)

General Gaming - The Arcade / The Witcher games - combat systems query
« on: November 24, 2019, 04:43:28 PM »
People who've played the Witcher: Wild Hunt, what's the combat system like? I liked the top-down system in the first game, but I gave up on the second game pretty shortly after the prologue because I just found the combat controls and style to be both a mess to handle and creating rather boring combats even when one could get them to work. So I'm wondering about just skipping to the third game.

Doctor Who / Series 12 DW Trailer
« on: November 23, 2019, 11:40:21 PM »

OK, this looks genuinely really good. Hope the series lives up to it :)

I have been reading games studies journals a lot today and I now have a stack of studies I'd like to do. In particular, I've seen some experimental attempts to look at active reception of historical ideas from games - sitting some players down in front of a game for a bit and then asking them how they feel about it as a historical source - but I can't find anything on passive reception which would seem like a much more interesting, and also eminently testable, area.

One would need to survey a number of active players of a particular historically themed game (or fantasy game) and then ask them to rate a series of propositions according to whether they thought this was a plausible or valid interpretation of the past. The majority of the propositions would be false or at least very arguable, with some true as a control: the question would be whether the interpretations that were logically encoded into or reflected in the game they played regularly were accepted as true at a noticeably higher rate than those that were not. It may be that the signal would be too noisy, certainly for controversial statements - I don't think you could use "Medieval Europe had almost no white people in it" as a false statement to throw at players of The Witcher, for example, because there's been enough surrounding public debate that gamers might well hold a view regardless.

Statements like "Medieval merchants tended to make more money by taking their goods further afield" for a player of Age of Empires II would be more interesting - there's no particular reason to assume that taking your goods further made more money in the majority of cases: of course taking your goods to somewhere with a shortage and demand for the product might lead to going further, but getting to a centre of demand was the important thing. Age of Empires, however, having no mechanic for trade goods per se, relies on a simple distance mechanic that encodes the idea of distance being fundamentally linked to increased profit, and that's the sort of thing where I think you could validly test if the mechanics of a historically themed game conditioned people to accept statements about the past that would fit those mechanics.

I'm kinda surprised not to have found any studies of this kind - if anyone knows of any, do poke them my way.


Korsakoff's Rome Total War: Vanilla Extended mod has been released! This mod replaces a number of the vanilla Rome: Total War factions with additional historical realms, from the post-Macedonian mediterranean Kingdoms of Pergamum and Epirus, to the tiny Bosporan kingdom and mighty Media Atropatene in the east, or the Celtic Tribes on the northwest fringes of Europe. There are also reworked unit rosters for a number of factions, with an extended range of troops available to Numidia, Thrace, and Dacia among others, as well as tweaks to the campaign map. The whole mod retains the feel and balance of classic vanilla RTW, giving you its classic gaming experience that gamers have enjoyed for the past fourteen years - do check the mod out at the links below:

The Boozer / Cute and Wholesome Picture Thread
« on: October 18, 2019, 10:35:28 PM »
I think we used to have one of these but it's buried in the dim and distant past, so here's a new one. Post nice and cute and sweet and good things  :)

Firstly, a few more Frankfurt photos I found whilst editing the piece I just posted:

And a couple of things I thought were cute from The Webs:

The Boozer / Of regrown leaves: three months in Frankfurt
« on: October 18, 2019, 10:30:14 PM »
Of regrown leaves: three months in Frankfurt

Spending three months in a city is a very different proposition to spending a few days there for a conference or visit, and it likewise leads to a very different feeling when considering the prospect of writing up such a stay. The plotlines and platitudes and brief histories with which one weaves together a brief impression of a city can no longer suffice so well, as bits of a place seep into you and you into them, memories left littered around municipal parks and emotions left tangling around tram station pillars when you finally leave. Between that, and life getting in the way, this piece has coalesced awkwardly over some months since I last set foot in the city – but I think is nonetheless better than if it had not been written at all, and that, sometimes, needs to be the bar one sets.

To say that Frankfurt-am-Main has a long history would be an understatement. The name derives from “Ford of the Franks”, hinting at its early medieval roots from before “Frankish” and “German” were really understood to differ. Even then, the first settlements in the area of the modern city were ancient, with a Roman complex present in the area. The period after the Roman retreat to the Rhine is shrouded in mystery, but by the late eighth century it was known as a significant settlement, and in the ninth it was the seat of Louis the Pious, becoming effective capital of the East Franks for a century, and further into the Middle Ages was the place where Bernard of Clairvaux called Conrad III to his place in the Second Crusade. Over time, it took its place as the major city in the region of Hesse, which gives its name to hessian sacking and was the source of many if not all of the feared Hessian jaegers who served as British-aligned mercenaries in America’s War of Independence.  Frankfurt itself was an Imperial Free City for many centuries, and at the end of the Middle Ages became the coronation site of Holy Roman Emperors (replacing Aachen) before being more properly merged into Hesse in recent centuries.

Old and very, very new together in the centre of Frankfurt.
That process was not, of course, smooth. Goethe, one of the city’s more famous sons, lived to see the end of the Holy Roman Empire, Frankfurt’s brief existence as a Napoleonic principality, its return to free city status and it becoming in effect the federal capital of Germany, all within the last three decades of his life. A decade later, Frankfurt would host Germany’s first elected parliament, whose unhappy two year attempts to form a constitution were eventually crushed by the might of Prussia. In the 1860s, Prussia did much the same to Frankfurt itself, whose intellectual cross-currents and harbouring of anti-Prussian writers and satirists needled Bismarck. How quickly Frankfurt could turn from refuge to place of fear was tested too many times over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – perhaps one of the last and most famous cases being that of a family whose name reflected that of their city, among many who fled Germany in the 1930s. Just one of them – Otto – was still alive twenty years later. That his daughter, Anne Frank, is one of the twentieth century’s most famous diarists would never be a consolation for his unspeakable loss. Nor for Frankfurt more widely could the loss be retrieved; until the 1930s and 1940s, Frankfurt had hosted one of the largest and oldest Jewish communities in Europe, first referred to in documents in the 1070s, although one which had suffered numerous pogroms and ghettoization at the hands of the city’s Christian residents at various points. Frankfurt Jews included the pioneer of international banking Mayer Amschel Rothschild and his family, and the liberal politician Ludwig Landmann, who became mayor of Frankfurt in the 1920s. Unlike the Franks, Landmann was never caught by the Nazis, but nor did he see the end of the war, dying malnourished and in hiding in the Netherlands in 1945.

Frankfurt was badly wounded in its physical as well as its human and moral fabric by the trials of the twentieth century, but it’s a fact only made obvious today by the comparative lack of older buildings and the more modern repaired nature of those that remain around the centre. The past is remembered, but it is by no means on display. It feels like a new city, not an old one, with skyscrapers continually shooting upwards and building works frequently visible in well maintained, wide streets, the latter (compared to, for example, Vienna) being one of the things I noticed most in my early reconnaissance of the city after arriving. Whilst the old centre is there, with some museums and old wood-frame buildings and cobbled areas, it feels very repaired, polished, and tourist-focused compared to the centres of more southern and eastern European cities. Parts of it reminded me of the towers and blocks of Chicago more than anything, complete with chattering suited groups of men and women swishing between glass-panelled offices - modern Frankfurt, in short, is back in business, has money and is very happy for you to know about it.

Ginnheim, in northwestern Frankfurt, where I lived.
The centre was not for the most part the main thing of interest for my stay, however – another difference to when one only has a short time in a city. I stayed in Ginnheim, northwest of the centre. This was once presumably a separate nearby village with its own cluster of older buildings, including its chapel and a very good restaurant which specialises in almost terrifyingly large portions of very good Balkan food. Public transport took me easily to and from the Bockenheim campus where I worked by tram, and the Airbnb I stayed in was a pleasant one-room rent from Dave and Suki, a respectively Dutch/Korean couple who worked between Frankfurt and Utrecht. The nearby shops other than the Lidl and Rewe supermarkets were largely run and owned by families of east Asian or Middle-eastern origin, including a grocer which did excellent baklava and a bakery café where I spent several pleasant afternoons working. The city outside the slickness of the centre has a quiet, comforting internationalism to it, displaying the multifaceted face of modern Germany.

My time in Frankfurt was inextricably bound up with another country entirely – Georgia. I was there to learn the language, and learn I certainly did. ახლა მე ვლაპარაკობ ქართულად, მაგრამ ცუდად - ფრანკფურტი კარგი იყო! Whilst to my knowledge there are no particular long term connections to Frankfurt or Hesse, German-Georgian relations have an almost surprisingly long and chequered history, including in the nineteenth century the presence of emigrant groups of Swabian Lutherans and other German settlers in eastern Georgia, whose architectural legacy can still be seen even if Stalin forcibly relocated the majority of them in the 1940s. Frankfurt is now, in any case, one of the main centres for linguistic studies of Georgian in Europe, and it was the academics there who I mainly went to see, particularly Professors Jost Gippert and Manana Tandaschwili (the latter surname transliteration being here in Georgian to German form – Tandashvili might make more sense for an English speaker)! To Manana in particular I owe a very great deal of gratitude for her time and for what limited ability with this complex but enchanting language I have been able to attain.

This family of Egyptian geese were regular sightings in Frankfurt's parks.
It was early in my stay when I first decided to go to the Gruneburg park, one of the more obvious locations on the map of Frankfurt and next to what is now officially the university’s main campus, which I never had occasion to go to. This is a fairly sizeable park, with wide grassy spaces at its southern end but also tree-shaded walkways around which red squirrels could often be seen, a cafe (which I never tried but looked very nice), and a pleasant Korean garden which contained bundles of tiny baby moorhen. In a small northern appanage (the first part of the park I actually came to), there was another a long pond which hosted various water-friendly birds and animals. Here man of my best wildlife pictures were taken, with a good diversity of habitat and animals relatively relaxed in the presence of humans. The first and most noticeable of the long pond's water-birds, on that initial visit, was a family of Egyptian geese, with a group of tiny ducklings (the nomenclature is confusing, but Egyptian geese are most closely related to shelducks rather than true geese). This family seemed to stay happily in place by the pond about as long as I was in Frankfurt, and I was able to see the chicks grow week by week from tiny balls of fluff into sleek young adults. Grey herons were also visible both on this pond and in the Korean garden’s pond, and the northern pond occasionally had small numbers of painted turtles – an American species originally which now via pet releases has stable populations across parts of Germany. It was not, after all, just the human inhabitants of Frankfurt that had an international diversity to their origins.

Just across the road from the Gruneburg park lies the botanical gardens, which I only visited rather later in my trip - whilst often packed with people, these sizeable gardens are also well worth a visit, and offer much more impressive bedding and ranges of plants than the other park areas in the city, as well as a fairly large array of food outlets and even a boating lake, one end of which is protected from boats and instead covered in a sizeable painted turtle colony (the Gruneburg park tortoises may well be an extension of this main colony - painted turtles can move a surprisingly long distance in search of places to live). I always tend to enjoy the greenhouses most - perhaps because the range of plants is more different to what I grew up with - and the one here did not disappoint, with an especially lovely range of bromeliads, which I have always had a soft spot for, only in part due to Terry Pratchett's memorable lines about them. In my one visit there, I also saw a bar-headed goose - which fitted with the Egyptian geese and painted turtles as a non-native, though a rarer one as bar-headed geese aren't thought to have significant European breeding populations. They are very pretty and regular escapes from private collections make them a not too uncommon sight in Europe, but Frankfurt is a far cry from their standard trans-Himalayan migration routes all the same.

Marie-Bittorf-Anlage was home to many fieldfares like this one.
Walking to or from the parks, another feature that was very noticeable about Frankfurt was the streets. These were wider and far more traffic-heavy than their Viennese equivalents: large arterial roads blazed their way through the modern city, with the aforementioned northern appanage of the Gruneburg park being connected to the larger southern section only by a thin footbridge over a multi-lane highway. Whilst Frankfurt’s public transport network is well maintained, slickly run, and inexpensive, this does not seem to allay the fact that it is a car-heavy city all the same.

It was a week or so more before I discovered two other parks. One, was the closest little patch of green to my house, was named in 2015 for the twentieth century trade unionist and socialist Marie Bittorf, a consistent feature of local politics from the 1920s to late 1950s except during the 1933-45 period when she was forced out of office by the Nazis. This small pocket of grass and a few trees was far from expansive, but it was frequented heavily by fieldfares, a winter bird in my native UK but nesting and breeding down here in Germany. Treecreepers, blue-tits, goldfinches and chaffinches were also all common enough sightings, as were the ever present red squirrels, which seemed to be considerably more common in Frankfurt than I have ever found them to be in Vienna. Later in the evening, glimpses of bats whistling past were common, though unlike many of the other common animals of the city I never found a way to capture the sight of these wonderfully nimble fliers. It was the other nearby park to Ginnheim, however - the Niddapark - that perhaps most captivated me of all the green spots I found in the city.

The Niddapark, named for the Nidda river which runs through its very northern end, is the largest of Frankfurt’s urban parks, containing several blocks of woodland, some orchard-like areas of planted trees, and wide open spaces largely used by Frankfurt’s many dog owners. The area had been proposed as a park as early as the 1910s, and was later debated as a site for Frankfurt’s zoo, but it was not until the 1980s that a federal garden show became the impetus for its eventual turning into a public park. It is now popular with dog walkers, runners, and cyclists, though the high footfall and dog presence does not seem to have hampered the wildlife much. The river itself is sadly not as exciting as it might be, with steep canalised banks and little of the water-side vegetation that might be needed for a more interesting range of wildlife. It is the woodland that is probably most interesting, though much of the grassland is also rarely cut and as a result hosts butterflies, solitary wasps, and other insects at the right times of year.

Buzzards, one of the Niddapark's most characteristic birds.
The range of animal and bird species on offer in the Niddapark is wide, and plenty are quite easily visible, the most spectacular being European buzzards whose wide wings are very rarely lacking from the skies overhead. I got a particularly good glimpse of one that led to a decent photograph just once, a chance sighting of one on a tree branch deep in the shade of a hot day. Most of the time, they move too fast or are simply too far away for an amateur photographer, but their wheeling flights are nonetheless a majestic part of the skies above the park. Jays are also a beautiful and fairly common sight as are both great spotted and green woodpeckers, not to mention the omnipresent red squirrels and a wide variety of small birds. Perhaps my most interesting record of the latter was a single sighting of a hawfinch, the reclusive powerhouses of the finch world whose heavy beaks are adapted to crack through cherry and plum stones. In the evenings mice were also quite easy to see, especially in Ginnheim wood on the east side of the park, with a little patience.

Whilst I spent much of my time in Frankfurt with my nose to the proverbial grindstone (and literal pages of Georgian notes), I was fortunate enough to meet some of its residents as well, including running two one-shot games of the Savage Worlds RPG system, which I was trialling for the first time. My hastily assembled gaming group hailed collectively from four countries across three continents – modern Frankfurt at its finest – and all happily settled in to the two mystery adventures I played through with them, and I was pleased how those went. The setting I was working on had already grown out of two small computer games I’ve written, most notably a text adventure mostly written about seven years ago called Adventures of Soros. More recently I’ve been returning to it and expanding it, and these sessions were an opportunity to test-run a few of my ideas and remind myself of the basic skills needed to take players through a game – there’s a couple of creatures I definitely now think of as the “Frankfurt monsters” as a result!

A part of the city forest - mandarin ducks were common here.
The museums of Frankfurt are also well worth a mention. There were several I didn’t get to, including unfortunately the main museum of the city’s history, but I saw some, mainly by joining some friendly locals for the Long Night at the Museums (a “one ticket, one evening, many museums” arrangement that a number of Frankfurt’s museums take part in). Those I did see included the natural history (Senckenberg) museum which is a well presented medium sized museum of its kind with a wide range of impressive fossils and taxidermied animals, near to the city’s astronomical museum which hosts an observatory at the top with excellent views. The other thing I managed to do during the Long Night at the Museum was to pay a visit to the city’s cathedral, St. Bartholomew’s, which hosted a choral music performance. Frankfurt Cathedral is quite modern, having been rebuilt after its destruction in a nineteenth century fire and then heavily repaired after twentieth century bombing. There has been a city church on this site since the seventh century or so, and the modern building represents the third complete reconstruction of the building – a cycle of renewal that perhaps makes the cathedral fit the city all too well. I nonetheless found it quite a beautiful building, perhaps partly because the somewhat sombre pseudo-medievalism of the experience was a relief from my usual feelings about overly visually busy, over-decorated baroque styles of church and church art, which I’ve never quite managed to reconcile myself to liking. Curiously, the building is not in the true sense of the term a cathedral, despite it usually being referred to as such, being the city’s main church and the previous coronation seat of Holy Roman Emperors. It is nonetheless not a bishop’s seat and not the centre of a see, being traditionally a collegiate church linked to the city’s former Imperial residence.

One of Frankfurt’s final beauties, and one I should perhaps have discovered earlier than I did, was the city’s forest, an ancient part of Frankfurt’s amenities that was the subject of a century or so of fourteenth and fifteenth century legal wrangling between the Teutonic Knights who held the grazing rights and the city who had purchased the land itself back from the Emperor. The forest is vast, and my single day’s explorations of it barely scraped the surface, besides it being a hot summer’s day and thus poor for seeing much. Various features are tucked away in the woods – of particular note is the Konigsbrunnen, a rushing spring with a picturesque nineteenth century stone setup around it, though other oddments like an unexpected well with old heraldic stonework around the rim were certainly charming too. Parts of the forest at least are quite accessible: trams can be taken right into the middle of the forest, with a restaurant and some other buildings close to the tram stop. Large ponds and watercourses create a good level of habitat diversity, though the most noticeable birds here which I hadn’t seen in Frankfurt itself were some mandarin ducks, the males just starting to head into their dull “eclipse” winter plumage but still startlingly beautiful. Doing poorly in much of their native range, especially in China, the prospect that the introduced mandarin ducks of Europe may in a decade or two have a larger population than their native cousins is by no means unthinkable.

Frankfurt is an old city and a new city alike, but perhaps more than anything it feels like a city that is about turning over new leaves. It’s a feeling both born out of the intense, deep pain of the city’s past that makes it a struggle to look backwards, and out of the changing needs of the city’s chrome and glass rebirth going forward. Standing prosperous, and hopeful that it can be the city that it wasn’t able to be at times in the past, Frankfurt’s memories are as barely visible as my own after I left – which of course I had to, as the crickets chirred louder and louder in the trees, their leaves now fully grown, and the high summer came in to the sound of their strigillating violins. Britain and Georgia both loomed near in my future, but the train on which I alighted out of the city, after a few last days of final walks, last buzzard sightings low across the Niddapark, and rounds all too brief farewells, was the direct one to Vienna. Even if a shadow of a shadow of my footstep still sounds below the breeze in Ginnheim wood, some days, Frankfurt had to look to its future, and I had to do likewise. Southward, homeward, and on.

The nearly full grown Egyptian geese - this is the same family shown above, taken a few days before I left Frankfurt.

Recent sad news from the world of webcomic: Rob and Linda Balder's Erfworld, one of the big classics of the fantasy & gaming webcomic world, has shut up shop after many years because of unspecified personal problems for the authors. There had I think been family illness issues before this, but it sounds like something else grim has caused a very big shift in how they're approaching things - they've gone so far as to take the blog down entirely, they've asked Rich Burlew to remove his site's mirror copy of Erfworld Book One and shut down the GITP Forum thread on the subject, and generally it's all completely locked down except for the core Erfworld community.

Whatever's happened, it's a sad loss - Erfworld was a unique, quirky look at the rules of wargames and how worlds built around them could operate and be a basis for storytelling. The way that the tight-written game rules were interwoven with the story was definitely an influence on how I think about things like game design and appreciating the ways that mechanics can channel and create constraints that make for good stories.

The past archives are still available on Erfworld's website, as well as the rather minimal info about what's occurred. I've no idea what's happened, but I hope there's a light at the other end of the tunnel for all the people involved, somehow or other. :(

I found this article pretty interesting and mostly wanted to share to see if anyone had any thoughts:

Especially this sort of bit:
At the core of the difference between how game designers and players speak about difficulty is the fact that we discuss it in terms of skill progression. All difficulty design is essentially that: crafting how players will learn, apply skills, and progress through challenges.

Game designers don’t actually talk that much about difficulty; we talk about things like progression systems and mental load. None of these things are strictly questions of “difficult” versus “easy” — they’re more about how we guide players to greater competency, and what that journey should be like, ideally.

And here is a unique progression system in Souls-like games such as Sekiro: Instead of teaching players the skills they need to beat a sequence or challenge beforehand, Souls-like games require you to progress by trial and error, learning by doing, understanding the rhythm of a fight while being in the fight itself.

In Souls-like games, death is not failing; it is growth. That has been the case in many games in the past, but this genre makes the connection between learning and failing explicit. It’s easy to understand, which is part of the reason players find it so welcoming despite the “difficulty” it creates. It feels fair to them.

Subsequently, what is at the core of a Souls-like game, from a designer’s perspective, is the importance of trust. We call this the player-developer contract. So much more is possible if the player trusts what we’re doing, and is comfortable failing in order to get better.

It's a perspective I've not really thought about before, perhaps partly because I don't play quite those sorts of games, but I thought it was interesting.

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