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Android and Burning Wheel Thoughts - Part 2


Apr 042011

I’ve made a few cosmetic changes to the Android Offers app and updated it in the market (click here for details). I’ve seen a number of people picking it up, with about 77 active installs at present, according to google. That said, I’ve yet to see any purchases made through the links.

Not sure about the new colour scheme – I may redo it. Would appreciate any feedback 🙂

Mar 212011

So, work and life have been fairly hectic recently and I’ve not had much of a chance to work on Java programming, but I have had a bit of time to mess around with app inventor. It’s really coming along in leaps and bounds, there’s so much you can do with it.

In the interests of laziness, I figured I’d try to make an app that I could update much easier than by constantly releasing new version. I wanted to be able to put the data on the web somewhere and have the app pick it up. Initially I wasn’t sure that this could be done, but a little playing around with the TinyWebDB component and a lot of tinkering with JSON and a PHP scraper and I have now created an app that can pick up the data on a twitter feed.

The App can be found at The Android Market and the twitter feed is at twitter.com/androidoffers (also displayed in the sidebar). I get sent so many offers in my email, I’ll pop the best ones up on there and see if they’re any use to anyone. They use a php redirect through my website so I get commission if anyone spends any money, and as a result I can offer the app for free and hope that it has some takeup. I put it out there on Friday and there were 32 installs over the weekend, only one of which was me 🙂

The app does contain a link to the twitter feed, so it’s likely that people who use twitter will just follow the feed, and then get rid of the app, so if there’s a lot of uninstalls, I’m going to try and take it philosophically… If anyone can think of a way to add value to the app to get people to keep it, let me know…

I’m really liking the synergy between TinyWebDB and PHP – it was a pain to get working in the first place, but it’s really neat to use once it’s up and running, and you can do so many things.

Anyway, if you’re interested, download it and let me know how I can improve it 🙂

Mar 112011

In a comment to my last post, Plib said:

Final thing, and not directly inspired by anything specific you’ve said, just an over-arching impression: You always focus on things you dislike about other people’s GM styles. I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard you talk about things you thought were done well. Maybe take a step back and have a look at what you actually like about other people’s styles and try and assimilate that in to your own. (And I’m not just fishing for complements here, I really think you should think about it.) There’s loads of articles on the web too, so I don’t just mean people you’ve played with, and don’t limit it to just things on BW.

It’s a fair point. I am by nature a curmudgeon. I find it much easier to point out the flaws in a thing than to celebrate the good points. I watched a lot of Dr Who under RTD just so that I could point out the flaws – I guess it gives me a kind of satisfaction (I loved the episodes that Moffat did, the rest ranged from ok to rubbish, but I still watched them all – and I really like the new Dr, even though I really didn’t think I would).

But I will try to look at the things that I’ve enjoyed. It’s not something I’ve really done before, so I may be a bit rubbish at it…

I’ve played in a lot of games over the years – but thinking about it, my gripes and the things that I enjoyed were almost always dependant on the GM, rather than the game. I like having the freedom to do what I want to do (or what my character wants to do) – or at least the illusion of that freedom. I like to be able to find different ways to accomplish goals, and being rewarded for creative ideas. I like to step outside the box, and see what’s there. I like to have my ideas taken on board. I like the escapism of “controlling” a character that is so very different to (and usually a lot more capable than) me.

In a recent discussion with friends, it was pointed out that a good GM will take on board what the players want, and a bad one won’t. This is true, but it doesn’t make BW superfluous. It still forces the players to take a much bigger role in world and story development. Some people may want to sit back and enjoy the ride, just taking part in the world that the GM has created, and BW isn’t great for this as it forces player participation in the creation process – I have trouble seeing this as a bad thing though.

Mar 112011

Recently (well – a little over a year ago, if I’m being accurate) I tried to run a Burning Wheel game for some friends. These are friends that I’ve been roleplaying with for the best part of 10 years now, so we know one another fairly well, so I thought it would be relatively easy, but it was an utter failure. So why? I’ve thought about this, and have some ideas, which I list below

We’re all too used to GM-driven games. The games that we normally play are very much railroaded. In fact it was one of my biggest gripes – one of the others there ran a game that went on for some time where the railroading tried to be subtle, but still very much there. There was one path to the “end” and if we couldn’t find it, nothing happened. This annoyed me no end – any alternate ideas that we came up with were derided, set difficulties so high that they were nearly impossible or simply failed, and things that the GM thought would make the game cooler simply worked, with the PCs having no chance to spot them coming or act to mitigate them. Burning wheel on the other hand makes the players take the reins to a large extent. This goes for me too – the game started with a cool premise, but nothing urgent that needed to be done, so the players went off and wondered around a hidden underground city. Not for any real reason, but because I thought it made sense – and as such they didn’t really push any beliefs. I should have looked at the beliefs and gamed based on that.

We’re a little too accepting. Sometimes people just want to have fun, right? So when one of the players says that they want to play something a bit different, we just shrugged and pulled out the rules. An orc in a party with two elves and a human – in a world where orcs are the big enemy and hated by everyone? Well, we tried it… It really didn’t work… We should have just said at the beginning: “I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s going to work.”

Lack of urgency. I mentioned this above, but I think it’s worth having a point of it’s own. Burning wheel works great when you have something that you want or need to do, and you want or need to do it now. Normally this will evolve in play as the players choose beliefs that drive them to do things and push themselves, but to start with I think it would probably help a lot to have some big threat that the players can build beliefs around if need be, to get them out there and doing stuff. I think this would kickstart the game, and once it’s going you’d be golden.

Complicated rules. One player wanted to be a wizard, but didn’t have too much interest in how exactly the rules worked. Sounds great in principle – lots of opportunity to have interesting failures as they bite off more than they can chew? In practise though, it meant lots of questions and a big distraction from the actual storytelling.

Aversion to failure.
We’re all used to games where failing is a really really bad thing. That’s simply not the case in BW, but I know some of the players were not at all happy with having to take hard tests that they’d probably fail in order to advance. I’m not sure how to get around this, other than by having some fun failures happen at the table…

Anyway – that game is long over, and unlikely to get resurrected, but I’m keen to run another, and wanted to put down why I thought that one failed, so that I can bear it in mind and make the next one better.

Comments, thoughts, etc all welcomed.

Mar 112011

Recently I’ve run into a bit of a rut in terms of getting any time to programme or to write updates for this site or my Other blog but I’ve decided that I will from this point forward try to write at least 5 articles per week (across the two, rather than on each – baby steps).  As part of that, I’ve slightly changed this blog so that it won’t just be about Android, but also about roleplaying, and I’ll use the other one to comment on politics, news, and the like.  I’ve also changed the layout to make it look a bit nicer, with any luck.

Nov 182010

I’ve updated the roadmap – thought of another couple of things I wanted to add, so I’ve shoehorned them in. One of them is down as point 0.2 now, (“0.2 – Add edit note and add note to long press menu”). This I did last weekend, and uploaded the result to the android marketplace. The add note function was easy, as I could just copy the command from the menu item, but the edit note option took a little more thinking. Managed to get it in though, and updated to the market.

The next item on the list is a little more tricky (“0.3 – preserve notes after switch off, tickbox next to notes”). The notes are already preserved after switch off, it seems (I’m guessing that the database that the app creates is preserved somewhere on the SD card automatically – which is interesting as I don’t have permissions to write data).

On my current build at home, I’ve added the tickbox, but I want to get it to the right of the screen, rather than just after the text. Adding the tickbox seems to have broken the functionality of clicking or long clicking on the list items (possibly because rather than just a list item, there’s now a linear layout containing the list item and the tickbox), and if I want the tickbox to take on a value stored in the DB, I’m not too sure how to do it. I can get multiple values and use them to populate the list, but I think they need to be of the same type. The title is a string, and I don’t know if I can put a string and a boolean in an array together. I may need to store the current state of the tickbox as a string, and interpret when we come to display the list.

Planning on doing some more work on it on Sunday – with any luck, 0.3 will be released on time 🙂

Nov 102010

0.1 – take notes, delete notes
0.2 – Add edit note and add note to long press menu (14/11/10)
0.3 – preserve notes after switch off, tickbox next to notes (21/11/10)
0.4 – only show uncompleted notes (although leave a note showing if ticked this session) (05/12/10)
0.5 – add time function for reminder (19/12/10)
0.6 – send reminder to notification bar (02/01/11
0.7 – notification bar enhancements, item can be ticked or “snoozed” from notification bar (16/01/11)
0.8 – add widget to let you add notes from homescreen (23/01/11)
1.0 – UI upgrades? release (30/01/11)

Nov 102010


This is a new blog, it exists solely to document my process in learning to create apps for Android.

I’m completely new to Java, so this is all a little complicated for me right now. I have got some experience with languages like PHP, but Java is a very different kettle of fish.

I’m also enrolled in the App Inventor Beta. It’s a great tool, easy to use, but has some rather strict limitations, and the apks that it produces are rather large at present. As such, I think I’ll mostly be using Java.

So far I’ve done some of the Android tutorials, and have built a primitive notepad app. I want to develop it to the point that it functions more as a to-do list than a notepad. My roadmap is in the next post. You can find the app so far in the Android Marketplace as ZNotes. I’ve put a price of £1 on it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’ve seen a lot of comment-spam on some of the more popular apps out there from websites that claim to have all paid apps on the Marketplace – I thought I’d see if they just download everything. If they do, they might just copy it and then return within a day – but even so, that would be interesting to know. Secondly, to discourage people from buying it until it’s nearer ready.

I will put a free download up on this site for people to use for as long as I’m developing the app, any feedback would be gratefully received.

For those interested, I’m programming using Eclipse, and find a lot of it’s auto-complete functions very useful – but it can get dangerous if you rely on it too much. The initial version of the app caused a crash to desktop as soon as you tried to add a note, simply because one of the activities was not declared in the manifest. That may seem like an obvious mistake to some, but it took me a couple of days to figure it out…

Anyhow, I’ll put the free download up tonight, let me know what you think 🙂