Today I had a conversation with a graphic design client who, for the past several years, I have charged $20 per image. It is an example of how, merely by setting your own boundaries in a healthy place, you often don't have to filter other people out of your life, because they will do so for you. I refer to this as a "self-solving problem".
Hi Matt,
I leave for a conference in Israel on Wed, Sept 2. Have any time between now & then to upgrade some graphics?
-Clientname
Probably. It will depend on the nature of the upgrades. There are more demands on my time these days, so I will have to raise my rates somewhat, but it will still be proportional to the amount of time I expect it to take. What did you have in mind, specifically?
Hi Matt,
I find your response of raising your rates because of "more demands on your time”very disappointing. It sounds like you have taken on the attitude of big business (airlines)…meaning charge whatever the traffic will bear.
I am sorry, but this “attitude” is contrary to my thinking and I withdraw my request for your services.
This is why it's so valuable for me to put things out there from the outset, which will prevent going down a path that can only end poorly. In various areas of life, this could be "I don't take on new clients unless you pay me to have our first meeting", or it could be "I don't want to work more than 40 hours a week", or it could be "I'm not interested in monogamy and I have a vasectomy." Etc.

Unfortunately, not everyone who should self-select out of your life will do so. Some of them will stick around and complain about your boundaries, or exert other pressures.

There are two main categories of this, depending on the power imbalance. In one case, the person who wants to set boundaries is vulnerable to the pressuring party, as I was financially vulnerable when I originally met this client.

In the other case, the power imbalance is reversed. The pressuring party has too much to lose if the boundary-setting party asserts healthy boundaries. This is often expressed as a form of romantic love, in which the chemical attachment of bonding persists long after the problems of a relationship outweigh the benefits.

If you (as the boundary-setting party) have sufficient alternatives, and if the pressuring party has sufficient alternatives, they will filter themselves out of your life. Then the only way you will continue to have the wrong people in your life is if you fail to assert yourself calmly but firmly. Sometimes walking away is not failure-- it's success. You do not have to make every relationship work.

This is also why it's smart to empower other people with independence and alternatives. Seeking out power imbalances, or setting them up, generates more conflict than it resolves.


  1. It's in the $50 to $60 price bracket.

  2. To maintain dramatic tension in the end-game, don't allow the players to be certain that the game is about to end. That works for other games. Not Habitat. To accomplish this:

    • Each time a stack of discs is depleted, put a "Comet Disc" in the bag. If three Comets are on the track at the same time, the game is over.

    • Each stack of terrain tiles should have one tile, shuffled into the bottom three copies in the stack, which ends the game when revealed.


  3. Players don't know how to make moves that advantage themselves until halfway through their first game. Most successful games have this problem, but it's avoidable.

    • A simplified pre-designed "intro setup" will be crucial for new players to get comfortable with the system.

    • Accommodate what everyone intuitively expects about nature. For instance, if a predator has no prey when it needs to eat, it should starve and leave the game board.

    • The default scoring system is now simplified. If there are going to be end-game bonus multipliers, they should be introduced in subsequent play-throughs. Allow experienced players to mix and match from a selection of complex variants in the back of the rulebook.

    • "When a terrain tile leaves the board, it is awarded to a player as a fossil."

    • "When it leaves the board."

    • "When it leaves. Leaves." <-- Pantomiming picking up a tile off the board. The 12th time this question was asked by the same player. I think the fossilization rule has a problem.


  4. This game is definitely ready for me to stop using the generic discs that I use for many of my prototypes. The mechanics have come along far enough in development to spend the time on graphic design to enhance the theme, which in this game is very strong and unique.

  5. "The best Euro-style game I have played at Protospiel this year."

Councilroom.com is a fan site for the card game Dominion that analyzes statistics from logs of all games played online at dominion.isotropic.org.

They put out the call for some graphics, and I have begun to submit some! For instance, I made the favicon which you can see in the title bar, depending on which browser you use.

I am sending them a lot of unlockable achievement badges, which they are gradually programming into the system. For instance, if you look at the player page about "theory" (who is one of the best players), you will see which awards he has so far under the "Goals" section. And here is my player page. Hover the mouse over a badge to see what it is for.

Have fun playing around with the interactive graphs.

In other news, Dominion itself is unlocking some achievements, so to speak! It has sold more than a million copies. Congratulations to DXV! (That's Donald X Vaccarino.) A half-size expansion titled "Dominion: Cornucopia" is soon to be released, as well as a large expansion late in 2011, and another promo card to be distributed at game cons. From the promotional text to "Cornucopia":
It adds 13 new Kingdom cards to Dominion, plus 5 unique cards. The central theme is variety; there are cards that reward you for having a variety of cards in your deck, in your hand, and in play, as well cards that help you get that variety.
I guess that prevents me from releasing my Trevor Jagoda Penguicon card, as a Victory card worth 1 VP for every two differently-named cards in your deck at the end of the game. Something like that is bound to be in Cornucopia.

Speculation is rife as to what DXV means by "unique card". He is secretive as usual. Perhaps each game you play with Cornucopia will include only one copy of each Unique! Or, perhaps it introduces variable player powers because each type of Unique would only be purchasable by one player per game. As usual, we'll keep arguing about it until the rulebook is finally released.

Laser cutting at i3Detroit, Feb 12, 2011 from Matt Arnold on Vimeo.

This laser plotter has finished engraving the pieces I designed, and is now cutting the perimeters of the pieces. This is 1/4" medium density fiberboard. This is at i3Detroit hacker space, in Ferndale, MI.

It took a couple of tries to scale it up (the advertised thickness of the wood was slightly incorrect), but here is the robot I showed you in the last post!

This robot, laser-cut from 3mm plywood, is a pawn I designed for an entire boardgame made with the laser cutter. I'm still waiting for laser cutter time, to see how it comes out, but I don't mind showing you the schematics now.

The key on the robot's back is just for decoration, but the gears on the board really turn. I used this gear template generator. The gearteeth form a track along which the pawns move, and you can change where everyone is on the track simply by turning the gears. Here are the schematics for the gears and board. Red is cut, black is engraved.

"GEARBOX GRAB" is a working title right now. I'm considering some other titles.

I think you can't really laser-cut cards, because it burns the edges as it cuts them. But you can laser-cut chips and draw them from a bag. So that's what this game uses.

I was asked to draw the artwork for this pendant as a demonstration of the laser cutter and engraver at i3Detroit. We made two of them-- I have the other one. For this one, Ross Smith painted an area of the wood red, then covered it with masking tape. The laser cut through the wood completely for the outline of the pendant, and burned away the tape while engraving the pattern. Ross then spray-painted the engraved area blue, and removed the remaining tape to reveal the red painted surface.
I just think these designs look better. It's my design philosophy. These are items you pick up and handle and use. They should not look like they belong on the wall in a frame. They should not depict. They should do and be.

But then I would get questioned for why I was hired as a designer if I was going to do so little. You have to make the design worse with lots of ornamentation to justify your pay. This is one of the reasons I would rather work on usability and legibility than design.

Also: What if Microsoft designed the iPod packaging? (SLYT)
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Don't think of it as spending your time doing artwork with your skills, in exchange for vague promises of future money that may not materialize. Think of it as getting in on the ground floor of a company! The graphics this artist created in response to that proposal? Completely hilarious. The email exchange detailed here may or may not be fictional, but is true-to-life.
I daydreamed about this system for years, and now I get to watch it.

World Builder from BranitVFX on Vimeo.

Forgetting frustrates me. I've forgotten more knowledge in my life than peasants in the Dark Ages ever learned. The point of taking a class is not about what I learn. It's about what I won't forget. Then I can move forward on programming projects with confidence that I don't have to waste a bunch of time catching up on what the keywords and punctuation mean. I refuse to cram for exams and just lose it all. I have to practice, practice, practice-- then I need to keep doing a regimen of projects to keep in the habit.

At an informational level, I've understood true-false logic, strings, variables, constants, conditionals, loops, iteration, and recursion for twenty years. But it was learning, not training. I can self-teach, but my life was too busy for self-training. There is a certain hump I must surmount.

I owe my desktop publishing proficiency to taking classes, with a set of practice exercises on deadlines. Now I can pick up a new program and not even think about it. I just get in the Zone. That is the hump I need to get over with programming, which is why I am taking a class.

[livejournal.com profile] blue_duck and [livejournal.com profile] ssanfratello will understand the concept of training, right down at the muscle memory level. It's not just what you learn about stances, balance, breathing, keeping your options open like water, when to commit to swinging the sword, and absorbing the universe juice. It's about what your body does from practice, just WHAM. If you have to stop and access the knowledge, you have been stabbed. With a sword.

That's what I'm interested in. When it comes to my daily Lojban regimen, it needs to be engraved in the brain at the level of instant linguistic connection between word and meaning. I know the vocabulary of Lojban, but most of it I still have to translate from English, which should not happen. Translation wastes valuable milliseconds, too long for comfortable speech. Fortunately I do not get hit with padded sticks when this happens.

When I program Karda, it will be for language training, not just language learning. Spaced repetition algorithms do training. I'm interested in software for self-training in various skills. As Napoleon Dynamite said, "You know, like nunchuku skills ... bow hunting skills ... computer hacking skills." The idea will be for the software to remind you to practice the skill again, get feedback on the result, and modify the interval for when it will remind you to do it again.

I'm gaining skill in Second Life. This Aztec/Egyptian/Greek/Chinese hybrid is based loosely on a prehistoric Japanese idol called a "Ueno." He's a creation of mine for the Intensive Course In Spoken Lojban. It will be a web comic created by taking snapshots of scenes we set up in Second Life, and the dialogue will be in MP3 files in Lojban. In each exercise, the student character will be in a different situation in which he must figure out the language of the natives (Lojban, naturally), and select the correct reply in Lojban from multiple choice to proceed. Do you remember the TV show Quantum Leap? You can think of this character as the student's "Al". He knows the native language; he refuses to translate but is happy to coach.
Creative work is still work. When writing, design, or another use of the imagination is a task one has committed to do, one cannot wait for inspiration to strike. The creative professional has to learn how to corral inspiration.

Recoiling at the passionless utility, I used to consider this an excellent reason to keep my creative output mostly partitioned from my income except for the occasional freelance job. Anything that I do because I have to, I can no longer even tell whether I sincerely still want to. There may or may not be a market for things I like, so it would probably involve making things I don't like, too much of which would kill my desire to work in that medium at all. I'm careful to stay in love with the rewarding part of my life and have fun with it. If I can find the sweet spot in which people will pay me to do it, so much the better; if not, too bad.

I must be careful that the luxury of being an amateur does not result in slacking off on creative output. My most successful times have come when I treat creative challenges as puzzles to be solved, and then apply myself to finding the answers to those questions as if I were a detective. I have to have something in my hands and say "no no, this is all wrong," and roll up my sleeves to open its guts. I either tinker with trial and error, or I apply the insights I've gleaned from experience about what makes me like something. Either way I fix the machine until it works for me.

The main reason that I didn't do more creative work used to be that I didn't know what to draw, what to animate, what to write a webcomic about, etc. One of the reasons fanfic is so successful might be that many of us don't know how to determine the goal state, so we have to get it from someone else and improve on how they did it. Having a nifty idea is said to be easier than sitting down and doing the work, but it's an equally insurmountable step for those who don't know the trick of it. Yes, there is a trick to "where do you get your ideas?" and yes-- difficult as it may be for authors to believe-- some of us needed to be taught it. Neil Gaiman, who never needed to be taught it, wrote an excellent article about this process after he had been asked "where do you get your ideas" umpteen million times. He identified several idea-seed questions. "What if..." "If only..." "I wonder..." "If this goes on..." "Wouldn't it be interesting if..." That's the trick to which one devotes quiet time and gets to work on making the imagination do something. After and between the reveries in which the goal state is realized and revised, one locks one's self in the workshop carrying out the mechanics to put it in a consumable form outside one's head.

My current creative challenge is to write a humorous skit of a game show between the Klingon Language Institute and The Logical Language Group for the annual Lojban Festival at Philcon. It's difficult to create drama not based on conflict. I have been instructed to make sure that Klingon and Lojban come out looking like apples and oranges for whom the idea of inferiority is inapplicable, while illustrating their non-overlapping goals and features, and have the contestants collaborate to destroy the competition itself. "Warrior Language And Logical Language Join Forces For The First Time!" How's that for a story hook? Philcon is November 17 through 19, so it must be finished within a month.

My poster image. )


I was inspired to post this by a blog post on EPCOT Central about whether the Future World section is becoming too visually cluttered.

My grandfather is with me. I step out of the darkness of a virtual reality lab-- back when nobody even knew what VR stood for-- having just experienced one of the first consumer playtests. At that moment I realize this medium will fuse all of my most passionate childhood interests (animation, theme park rides, puppetry, games, computers) into a single art form. My imagination is primed.

The entire wall opens up, and we emerge, squinting, into the bright sunshine of the most beautiful place in the world: the central plaza of Epcot Center between Communicores East and West. The architecture evokes being a gnome in the toy chest of a colossal demigod of dreams. Geospheres and languid curls have been painted and lit in brave but carefully-measured color combinations. We shade our eyes under fronds of plants imported from all over the planet. A gigantic concentric-staged fountain dances its 10,000 spouts in computer synchronization to the theme from The Rocketeer. Colorful metal banners spin their screw-driven spiral shape in the wind, as if they were submarine propellers somehow made of ice cream. Flocks of light whirl and bank on the tips of fiber optics in the pastel concrete, bursting their emergent complexity and dying in fractal singularities. A group of dancers dressed like a red version of Blue Man Group form some kind of contortionist version of a cheerleading pyramid. The Monorail approaches and is reflected in the lagoon. It glides silently overhead.
This project sat idle for more than half a year while I was busy with other projects that were more time-sensitive. Click the "sculpture" tag at the bottom of this entry to read the past blog entries on this topic. The silicone rubber mold is now finished on my maquette of Linux-Tan.



Here is a photo set of the process of removing the clay original.
This photo has mouse-over notes describing what you are seeing.

While I was at it, I also photographed a game board R. and I made ten years ago in college. It's a Mah-Jongg variant intended to teach the Japanese alphabets, hiragana and katakana. I'm not sure where I put the tiles.

I've been using Adobe products in the workplace for years and have purchased more than one for home use. While waiting for them to load, I often would browse the credits in the splash screen. One name in the Photoshop credits always jumped out at me -- "Seetharanan Narayanan." Wow, I thought. How could you top a mellifluous name like that for a software engineer? Well this photo tour of Adobe headquarters (which looks exactly as I imagined Adobe headquarters would look), finally put a face to the name!
nemorathwald: (Matt 3)
Now to hear from the bright and happy good news department. What have we got on that side of the register today?

- A new client has asked me to do freelance graphic design work!

- This weekend is Penguicon! We will once again call carnivals into existence with the power of our minds!

- My dad called and said he's got this Saturday off, and wanted to know how much admission to Penguicon costs. He wanted to attend.

- Soon I will have the time to resume going to Denny's on Saturday mornings with [livejournal.com profile] cosette_valjean, and also finally finish playing Pikmin 2.

Now to get back to work on preparing for the seven events I am running at the convention this weekend.
For all the benefit of the communications plan I devised last year for Penguicon 3.0, it has one drawback. With the four or five different versions I'm maintaining, it's difficult to track all the changes in multiple places.
1. programming's original spreadsheet,
2. website programming page,
3. program book PDF from InDesign,
4. pocket program PDF from InDesign,
5. kiosk html documents,
6. Master Wall Schedule document,
7. signs on the door of each room listing the events there,
8. Palm OS schedule doc
(edited to add: It seems that this list gave the impression that the attendees will only get a PDF of the program book and pocket program. No, they get them in paper, the PDF/InDesign is merely what I've got to deal with. This convention will have paper galore; in fact, more so than normal. The only thing we are not having is the newsletter. Also, I know that hardly anybody carries or uses PDAs, but the PalmOS schedule is a nice frill for the few of us who do.)
It's a lot of work but it's still worth it. Next year I would like there to be a way to synchronize all the versions together just by updating one place.
This communications plan imitates the organic nature of the world wide web, or as Vernor Vinge would put it, "The Net of a Thousand Lies." In any one given instance, at any one time or place, it does not have the reliability we expect from brick and mortar. But it is flexible and responsive in a way that no paper program book can ever be. It's redundantly distributed and has what seems like a million participants sharing the work. I was reminded of this while reading an editorial about the internet by Cory Doctorow's on O'Reilly: link
nemorathwald: (Matt 3)
It's funny, last year I felt wistful about losing my former career in desktop publishing. But the last couple of weeks the DP projects I've been doing have left me with no time to even think about anything else. Keep Options and Nested Boxes. Shortcut key combos to adjust Kerning and Leading without using the Character Pallette. Figuring out the best linescreen with the print shop on the phone. So on and so forth. I enjoyed it but I'm ready to take a little break-- especially after my friend the game publisher contacted me. This was right in the middle of laying out the ConFusion program book, restaurant guide and pocket program. He was asking InDesign questions to see how to fit errata content into the rulebook I did for him, without increasing the number of pages. I had to explain to him, what I did with the original book was like an elegant jigsaw puzzle of astonishing cleverness if I do say so myself. Similar to how someone once described a Greg Egan novel, it was like balancing balls of ice cream on a cone, then a cherry, then a whole new ice cream sundae upside down on top of that. The addition of a few sentences in new edition topples the whole edifice in a cascade of graphics wrap and text autoflow. It can't be fit in by doing one or two things-- it created a significant, financially remunerative, design challenge.

Darn writers; they have this quirk. They do not take kindly to being asked to change a word to a shorter synonym for text flow; they care more about what the book says than how it looks. Sheesh, what do they think books are for? [/joking] Whereas my experiences in publishing have taught me that I am quite the opposite. Fandom has this thing they call an APA, a "fanzine" or "Amateur Press Association," and they think newcomers such as me already know what this is. When they elected me on the spur of the moment to be the "editor" of a local APA, I discovered to my surprise that they expect me to take charge of actually getting content and caring about that content. This is, I assume, because most fen are obsessed with writers and being a writer. I am not. My favorite book to work on is the kind where the content is none of my business and not my problem, which is how I managed to work for a Christian church for three years. Last month I walked in, went straight to the literature rack, and instead of saying "damn that doctrine of vicarious atonement! Two wrongs do not make a right!" or "how does he think he can get Jesus back in Christmas by putting it back in retail stores?" what I said was, "oh wow, they can afford two colors." Shallow, I know; but that newsletter was my baby all grown up.

Unfortunately for me, my expertise in Illustrator, PageMaker, InDesign and Photoshop is, as [livejournal.com profile] elizilla put it to me recently, "the fun part." People will not pay me to do something professionally, if they themselves are happy to do it amateurishly. We live in a day of clip art. Hence my career change-- but it's nice to work for gaming companies on the side. I have a lead on a one-time contract job. They're looking for graphic designer with experience in very professional-looking card games. Which I have. Wish me luck.

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