Brendan's Personal Blog

Sometimes I write something down.

G. K. Chesterton and Game Design

[Epistemic Status: That’s just, like, your opinion, man.]


I’ve been thinking about game design a lot recently, especially asymmetry and specialization.

When playtesting an asymmetric game, in my experience a lot of small fixes are more likely to return sides to some mean game, destroying what makes each side ‘special’.

The trick I’ve taken to using when I notice myself doing this I’d like to credit to GK Chesterton. Chesterton many times would argue that something was bad not because it was too much of an obvious bad thing, but because it wasn’t obviously bad enough! For example:

“The modern city is ugly not because it is a city but because it is not enough of a city, because it is a jungle, because it is confused and anarchic, and surging with selfish and materialistic energies.” – The Way to the Stars, Lunacy and Letters

It certainly is an interesting design exercise to try and solve problems by ostensibly making them much worse. For example, in one game I was working on, one side took few but powerful actions, while another side took many weak ones. The few-action side was not actually powerful enough, and I initially fixed this by giving them more actions. This made the two sides too similar, and my current design solved the problem by taking away all but one of the actions of that side.

When something looks like an unsolvable problem, lean into it! It’s a novel strategy. We’ll see if it makes a better game.


Steven Universe, Season 1

This show is pretty good. I figured I’d write down my thoughts on important/favorite episodes somewhere. This is basically a slightly delayed liveblog, so don’t expect too many deep thoughts for any individual episode.


Episode 5, Frybo

This was the first episode with a big hint that this show was going to be more than a lighthearted kids show. Frybo is truly terrifying.

Episode 6, Cat Fingers

This episode one-ups the previous ones horror with the Steven-cat amalgam. For readers of Worm ( this reminded me of Echidna to a frightening degree.

Episode 12, Giant Woman

The first fusion, and the first really catchy goofy song (no slights to Cookie Cat lovers). After watching this episode I wanted to see alll the possible fusions!

Episode 13, So Many Birthdays

A meditation on old age and death. Sure, that’s a reasonable premise for a kid’s show.

Episode 15, Onion Trade

I don’t know what Onion’s deal is. He seems like a monster. Another nightmare episode when Onion uses a Gem tool exactly how I thought of using it.

Episode 16, Steven the Sword Fighter

Noooooo Bird Mom! Shocking, completely shocking, and the show really sold this moment as bad as Steven felt, despite it being temporary.

Episode 17, Lion 2: The Movie

I just want to point out under an episode that is relevant how many episodes involve going to ancient Gem ruins and making no mention of them.

Episode 18, Beach Party

Gem clothing transformations!

Episode 19, Rose’s Room


Episode 20, Coach Steven

Blah blah blah SUGILITE. More fusions plzzz.

Episode 22, Steven and the Stevens

Existential nightmare of an episode perfectly capped off by a bouncy, catchy song about it. Pearl’s worried face during the song is the best.

Episode 25, Mirror Gem

The first introduction to an intelligent Gem, and the beginning of learning about how the Crystal Gems on earth relate to the Gem society as a whole. Did the Crystal Gems know they had a sentient being bound in basically a Gem television? Also learning that every gem they recover on missions used to be a Gem at one point = …

Episode 26, Ocean Gem

Lapis is so. powerful.

Episode 29, Secret Team

Embodied gem shards are scary.

Episode 30, Island Adventure

The main characters of this show lie to each other ALL THE TIME. Not sure how I feel about that.

Episode 31, Keep Beach City Weird

This was a scary episode for me, because it was very clear that Ronaldo was meant to be ‘ranting’ about the truth at the end. What did the Gems want with Earth, originally??

Episode 32, Fusion Cuisine


Episode 33, Garnet’s Universe

This is a cute idea for an episode. I’m a little unclear about when in time this show is supposed to be set– Steven has a Gamecube (rendered with very high fidelity) in his room, and all of the sound/action in this episode evokes a SNES/N64 era video game structure.

Episode 34, Watermelon Steven

More existential nightmares, capped off with the perfect ending of Steven absentmindedly eating a corpse he was just lamenting over.

Episode 37, Alone Together


Episode 39, Future Vision

This is one of the reasons that Garnet is so powerful. Being able to see possible futures in incredibly high fidelity is…very useful.

Episode 40, On the Run

The return of the information from Ronaldo in Episode 31. Nothing is mentioned by the characters themselves (has the word Kindergarten ever been scarier?) but adults and well-read kids will immediately recognize the bacteriophage design of the machines. That together with Ronaldo’s ranting and Amethyst’s past point to the Gems original terrifying plans for Earth.

Episode 43, Maximum Capacity

This one got weird. What is the past relationship of Amethyst and Greg? Especially because Amethyst has shapeshifted into Rose before? This is all very disturbing.

Episode 45, Rose’s Scabbard

Oh poor Pearl. It’s very affecting to see how much Pearl idolizes Rose and misses her. Feels, yo.

Episode 46, Open Book

DON’T GO INTO ROSE’S ROOM. More sentient beings created and cavalierly destroyed. More nightmare fuel.

Episode 49, The Message

It’s nice to see Greg as more than a sad sack. Also, shit, meet fan.

Episodes 51/52, The Return/Jail Break

Holy crap this show got so real so fast. Ruby/Sapphire are great, especially Ruby’s frustration that she “Can’t see” alluding to her lack of future vision when unfused. Garnet’s song was very moving, the ship design (with escape pod) was awesome. Lapis is again shown to be an insanely powerful Gem who can remain fused with someone she is actively taking prisoner, while Pearl/Amethyst can barely keep fused when a disagreement breaks out.

Final Thoughts

This show had a slow start on the trail from lighthearted kids show to engaging narrative. The pace is actually fine for a show that exists in 10 minute chunks, and it deals with complicated issues (especially related to my jam, existential dread) in heavy, emotional ways. For example, contrast the death of alternate timeline Stevens to anything time-travel-related in Rick and Morty. Being able to mix that with the overall ‘fun’ness of the show is very impressive. I’m looking forward to Season 2.

Using Your Superpowers Effectively

One of my favorite stories is Worm, which is what I would call a deconstructionist superhero story. The people who end up in charge in Wormverse are sometimes those who can punch the hardest, but also often whose powers make them better administrators, leaders, and planners. My favorite thing about Worm is how everyone uses their powers to intelligently bring about their goals- superheroes rarely doing this is what leads this comic to be so funny. A lot of the humor from early sections of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality comes too from the main character seeing ways of ‘abusing’ his muggle knowledge in the wizarding world.

In my own life, I’m the guy that ruins hypotheticals. Before I answer “where I would place the ends of a permanent portal” or “what I would do with a lunchbox that always had a sandwich when opened” I have to make sure there’s not an easy way to make infinite energy, since that leads to a whole bunch of other positive outcomes. As a friend once said, this makes me “the worst”. But I recently realized that there’s something I’m not doing. I’m not applying my desire to ruin hypotheticals to my actual life. And I don’t think I’m alone.

What things am I currently great at? Am I using those powers in a thoughtful way, or just the way everyone else uses those abilities? How can I use my abilities in a way that would make a dungeon master cry ‘foul’? What about you?

Neverwhere Confusion [Spoilers]

I’m listening to Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman on audiobook, and a quote by the main character (the hapless Richard Mayhew) I found very confusing. For reference, Richard has fallen through the cracks into London Below, and no one from his old life notices or recognizes him anymore:

“The Marquis says we might be able to get me back [to London Above], but I don’t see how that’s possible.”

Now, I understand the role of ‘hapless protagonist out of his depth’, and I even understand Richard boldly pronouncing that something can’t be possible, hundreds of pages into a topsy-turvy adventure. But I don’t understand how he comes to the conclusion above. When Richard says there’s no door in a wall so they can’t get through it, he’s appealing to his understanding of London Above. Even though his expectations for Below are consistently surprised, at least he’s doggedly applying what he thinks are The Way Things Work to this new place. In regards to returning to London Above, however, he has nothing to appeal to. As far as he can tell, he became a member of Below instantly and with no notice, through some unknown mechanism. This basically the only thing he knows at this point about the transition between Above and Below. Now, he could be applying the Above reasoning of ‘fundamental changes to your person require extraordinary action’, but why apply this general principle when he has specific evidence about this very effect?

Positive Reinforcement

I went to the dentist recently, and I noticed a behavior of the hygienist that I really approved of.  I hadn’t been in a long while, and was joking about finally getting around to it. No matter how jokingly I approached the idea, the hygienist calmly and firmly stressed the importance of me actually being there. I was already glad that I was there, but I appreciate her desire (unconscious or not) to make me glad for showing up.

Wheel of Cards


How big would a wheel have to be if you could spin it and land on the name of any Magic card in Modern?

-Eric Klug



Pretty big.


For this question, I assumed that the Magic card names would be written at their actual size, as if you cut each name off of an actual card. Luckily, I have a few samples to take measurements on.


This part of a Magic card is roughly 63mm wide and 9mm tall. And every slice of the wheel is 2 radians divided by the number of cards in the format (according to Gatherer, Modern currently has 8140). After that, it’s just simple geometry to end up with this:

mathdrawing 2014-04-30_14-33-53_73


As you can possibly see from my whiteboard scrawling, a wheel of Modern card names has a radius of 11.72 meters, or about 40 feet- making the wheel about nine stories tall (or if you prefer, four double-decker buses end-to end).

rm 6

 However, the drawing above isn’t actually the smallest wheel possible- just the easiest to do math on. The actual optimal circle is a little bit tricky to calculate, but what we can do is find another easy wheel to calculate that’s smaller than the actual allowed size, to see how much error we’re introducing by not calculating the actual wheel size. Most of the wheel itself is empty- each wedge is very thin. A piece of a smaller circle (made illegal by some overlapping) would look something like this:



and have a radius of 11.66 meters. 6 centimeters of radius doesn’t sound like a difference to get very worried about.


We can go bigger. What if we wanted to be able to land on any card ever printed? With over 14,000 cards, our new wheel would have to be 40.4 meters in diameter, or blue-whale-sized.

 diving blue whale

 What about even bigger? The length and width of each card name are just parameters, so why don’t we slap a full copy of every Magic card ever printed on each wedge of the wheel? A little math later…

141 meter radius. That’s a diameter larger than the Hindenburg, or the Great Pyramid of Giza as a spoke in the wheel:

hinden Kheops-Pyramid


If anyone in the Magic community wants to play an analog version of the Conley Woods Game*, this is your chance to give it a spin.


* The Conley Woods Game is being randomly given 3 cards and having to build a deck around them.

{Something something Magic card symbols, something something copyright Wizards of the Coast.}


The first post on this blog should be about something important.


Sorting socks is terrible.

Someone had previously suggested to me having only one type of sock, so I never have to sort them. This is plausible in the limit (all dress socks are the same, all white socks are the same, etc). There is another solution: wear cooler socks. I’ve enjoyed getting more exciting socks recently, and was happy to learn the joy of sorting increased with the joy of wearing.