History of the Book of Mormon

During my scripture study, I was curious about the phrase “liken all scriptures” in 1 Nephi 19:23. “Likening scriptures” is kind of odd phrasing, so I wanted to know more about that choice of words.  Instead I found a commentary that explained why it wasn’t wrong for the verse to refer to the “book of Moses” rather than “books of Moses”. This struck me as odd, since the verse actually reads “books of Moses”. To track the history of the verse I went to look it up in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. It is at this point that I discover a far more interesting change. I had known that the original edition of the Book of Mormon wasn’t split into verses, but I didn’t know that it also used different chapter breaks. The first edition has much longer chapters, and in a few cases the modern chapters break across original chapters.

In researching this topic, I found a blog detailing the chapter break with lots of useful tables. My new question became wondering if these chapter breaks were present in the original text, and it sounds like the answer is yes. This led me to a fascinating presentation by Royal Skousen about his work tracing the text of the Book of Mormon through its various manuscripts, copies, and printing.

I’d really like to try reading the Book of Mormon according to the original chapter breaks and in a more narrative format.

“Nor do readers get fatigued as they do when reading a two-column text that frequently breaks in the middle of words (by hyphenation) or in the middle of phrases and clauses, a process that puts a lot of stress on the reader in trying to negotiate the text. With the sense-lines, it’s also much easier to keep on reading. Some readers have discovered they can now read several chapters at a time instead of just the one chapter at a time that they were used to reading.”

Skousen also talks about the initial translation of the Book of Mormon. He gives examples of specific Hebrew constructions that sound terrible in English, consistent word choice when multiple phrasings would work, and the specific spelling of foreign names like Coriantumr.

“The original translated text is so consistent in this respect that it doesn’t look like it’s the result of a translator freely choosing how he should translate a given expression or word form each time he comes across it.”

He gives examples of various archaic phrases that consistently appear in the original text, even as some of the verses have been adjusted to modernize the language in later editions. I’m further intrigued by the challenge of trying to preserve a text while the language continues to change. My favorite example of this comes from the Bible with the phrase “by and by”. The phrase means “immediately” but it sounds like something that happens after a time. It’s an interesting balance to strike, because adjusting a text will improve clarity but learning the original text will also teach about the underlying language.

The initial change I was tracking down of “Book of Moses” to “Books of Moses” happened between the 1920 and 1981 editions of the Book of Mormon. My guess is that the change was made so that readers wouldn’t presume that Nephi was talking about the Book of Moses that is found in the Pearl of Great Price. 

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New Year’s Resolution 2016

Thinking about New Year’s Eve resolutions, the goal I keep coming back to is writing more. I like the organization that writing brings to my life. I’ve enjoyed journaling on and off for the last year. I think that by writing more formal pieces, it will influence how I see the world. I’m excited about this, because I remember trying something like this a few years ago. It didn’t last long, but it had a good influence. I’m also inspired by some of my friends who blog.

To make this into a concrete goal, my resolution will be to create and post 52 blog posts this year. I’m not concerned with anyone actually reading it, but I think actually publishing my posts will bring structure and encourage me to put extra effort into what I post. I’m also curious what kind of response I might get. The subject matter will be responses to my life, such as recently read books, video games, parenting, work and religion.

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I don’t understand comic books

I’m trying really hard to ‘get’ comic books. Over the last two years I’ve read most of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, The Watchmen, and a collection of the best Batman books (The Dark Night Returns, Hush, Year One, The Long Halloween, The Killing Joke, Arkham Asylum). I’ve enjoyed most of these stories, but I still don’t think I understand.

As a recent example, I got issue #1 of a new Star Wars comic in a Loot Crate. I read and enjoyed it, but didn’t think too much of it. And then I see that the book has sold over 1 million copies. And I read this rave review. And I don’t really understand. I can’t imagine paying $30 for a year’s worth of issues. I really dislike the short lengths of the stories (around ~24 pages). I noticed while reading the larger volumes how surprised I was by where the individual issues are broken up. I think the breakdown might be in the artwork. I enjoy the visual storytelling, but I don’t spend much time looking at the details of the art. I know the art is probably the most difficult part to produce, and part of the reason comics are so expensive. (I imagine the other reason is low circulation).

I don’t think I’ll ever become a regular reader of comic books, but I’ll probably look for the bound volumes from time to time.

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On going to bed early

Some days being a grown up is hard.

I just got off of a week where I was just completely exhausted and not getting ahead. And it’s a disaster when it comes to the weekend and all I want to do is sleep, but we have to manage a grumpy toddler. I took some time on Sunday to fast and pray about what I should do. I was hoping that I would just be blessed to have the extra strength and energy I needed, but I had the clear impression that I really need to go to bed earlier and better. Of course.

Doctrine and Covenants 88:128

Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.

Sarah also suggested an earlier bedtime. So we’re trying to refocus on going to bed. It’s hard. But there’s no way around it. I like getting into work early so that I can be home earlier. Having that extra hour in the afternoon makes all the difference when Sarah is dealing with an unhappy child. That means I need to wake up early (around 6:15). And that means an early bed time. We’ve pushed back our bed time reminder to 9pm, which gives me the time to shower, read scripture together, and so on. And I’m working on not letting the Internet and games keeping me up later than I want to. I’m hoping that after a week or two of this, I’ll be a more disciplined and we can go back to getting ready at 9:30pm.

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Make a game in a month

I’m an avid watcher of Extra Credits. I’m not really interested in working in the video game industry, but I find discussions of games and mechanics fascinating. Their recent video encouraged budding game developers to focus on finishing games and to pick projects that they can start and finish within a month. Otherwise you either take on a project that greatly outclasses your skills; you’ll end up getting stuck and never get any experience with actually finishing a game.

I agreed that it was pretty good advice and move on. Later that week I watched a video of someone playing parts of the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time blindfolded. I was partly impressed but a lot of the techniques come down to creating paths that are simple enough to memorize and find while blindfolded. I was kind of hoping that you might be able to figure things out without ever having seen the game.

I started thinking about what a game might look like that was meant to be played blindfolded. I realized that this game would probably fit the scope of something that I could do within a month. So on Saturday I started.

My plan is simple. The game will be a randomly generated maze that you’ll have to navigate while trying to remember the layout. It will be designed to be played with a controller and you will only have sound and vibration to figure out where you are. It will probably involve searching the maze for a number of switches in order to open a door in the main chamber. I think this is something I’ll be able to accomplish. It will be challenging because the game will need strong stereo sound design in order to be able to hear your way around, which I’ll have to learn to do as I go along.

concept_art

Concept Art

I doubt the game will turn out to be that fun, but I’m interested in the challenge of starting and finishing the game. You can see the code for Blind on GitHub right now. So far I have some simple walls and a controllable character. I’ve got a character that can be moved via the keyboard or a plugged in controller. The plugged in controller will vibrate when the character hits a wall. There are graphics right now, because I’d like to be able to see things to test them. I’m writing this in Python because I’m working the most in Python right now, and I’ve done some work in PyGame. I didn’t think this would be a performance intensive game, and I figured it would be faster than figuring out a Java or C++ library that I hadn’t worked with before. I also determined that I could get controller input and do a controller vibration pretty quickly.

So far I’ve only spent three or four hours on this, but I’ve got a lot of the fundamentals working. From here I want to get a random maze generator, the switches, and a victory condition. And then I anticipate spending the last two weeks playing with sound to see if I can actually make this thing work.

 

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Being a nerd makes things complicated

My computer wouldn’t turn on one evening, and after opening it up and poking around I figured out the problem was the graphics card. Once I removed it from the computer, it turned on. Ostensibly I’m blaming my son, since he dropped a remote behind the computer and it might have been the cause of the damage. Realistically, the computer is five years old, the graphics card is two, and I may have been overloading my power supply with the new card.

I got excited about the prospects of building a computer from scratch, but found a computer for about half the price it would cost to build one.  When it arrived, however, I couldn’t just turn it on and use it. I wanted to move my SSD from the old computer to the new, and I wanted to save all my data. And this where I make things difficult for myself.

My plan was to backup the SSD and install Windows 8.1 on that drive. Then I would copy backed up files to the new computer’s drive. Then I would reinstall Windows 7 on the old computer, since it would then be missing its operating systems. Things did not go to plan.

The first wrinkle was that I couldn’t find a flash drive to place the Windows 8 installer on. I went to the store and got the cheapest and smallest flash drive I could find (an 8gb sandisk). They had screwed something up on these drives so that they appeared as fixed hard drives and not removable drives, so Microsoft wouldn’t allow me to place the installer on them. I had to use a third party installer to create my install media.

Then I was worried that I couldn’t find a sticker with the Windows 8 license on it. So I had to use the Belarc Advisor to extract that, just in case I needed it. However, I wasn’t ever asked for it, so I’m not sure how Windows 8 handles activation. Windows 7 is kind enough to wait until you’ve wiped your drive and its too late to go back.

I opened up the new computer case and found that they didn’t have any empty hard drive bays. This really surprised my, since my old case seemed to have three spots for placing things, and it’s really common for people to use SSDs now. I read online that hobbyists often use velcro to attach the drive somewhere safe in the case. On the plus side, the computer came with 8GB of ram, and I was expecting 4 2Gb cards, but it came with a single 8GB card. I transfered a RAM upgrade over to bring it to 10GB.

Trying to get the system to boot from my drive was a huge pain as well. I finally turned secure boot completely off, and then ran into problems figuring out which drive was booting. I think there is still an MBR floating around the drive that I need to be careful with.

The part of my plan that I hadn’t thought through was the copying forward of data. I tried to use the drive enclosure that I had, but it was a SCUSI enclosure instead of SATA so it wouldn’t work. Finally I just plugged the drive into the new computer and did the copy with the case off.

3 Drives

Finally I installed Windows 7 back on the old computer. This went smoothly, especially since you can install Windows on a drive without erasing it.

It would have been a lot easier to just use my new computer that way it came…

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To The Moon

I recently played the game To The Moon by Freebird Games. I has heard a lot of good things about it, and knew that it was an artsy interesting game. I’m struggling to figure out why I liked it. Is the narrative actually good, or does it just seem that way compared to other video games? Should it have even been a game, or would it have worked better as a book or a movie? Is the game benefited by being a game?

To give some background: To The Moon is a game where you guide a pair of scientists through the memories of a dying man. You travel through his memories backwards and do so by searching each memory for scenes and important objects. Reviews of the title are mostly positive, with most of the praise going to its narrative and absolutely gorgeous music.

I don’t think I would like the story as well if it were told through a movie or book. A movie would make the story seem bland and childish; especially if some of the dialog were to be spoken rather than written. And I think a book would need a lot more structure and detail to hold the narrative together. As a video game, however, the story was enhanced by both the expectations and the conventions of the medium. It’s not that video games tend to have bad stories, but the story typically serves as a vehicle for gameplay. They are usually a simple explanation as to why you need to kill all the bad guys and save the world. It’s rare for a game to have a story dealing with themes like those in To The Moon such as death, old age, regret, and mental illness. And the game tells its story in the same way as Japanese RPGs like Final Fantasy, where the player guides the characters from scene to scene (usually with bouts of strategic combat between each point).

I noticed two video games techniques that To The Moon relies on to tell its story. The first is that only some of the details present in each memory are required to progress the narrative. A careful player may find additional dialog, or insights that other players never see. The second is that by putting the player in control of the scientists, the player becomes part of the narrative. You don’t have everything explained to you, and your actions are required to advance the story. I think this allows a player to become more invested in a story, than they would otherwise be, and it might be one of the reasons the story wouldn’t work well as a book. A book would require an even stronger story and characters to hold the attention of a reader.

In conclusion, To The Moon’s story is bolstered by being a video game. It allows players to be a part of the narrative and fill in the gaps it would need to be a stronger movie or book. And it allows the narrative to have some depth, because not all of its details are on the surface. I think it is beloved because it shows that games can tackle more serious issues, and although I feel it falls short of its narrative potential, I anticipate future developers will be inspired and advance the story driven games even further.

 

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High School Reading

High school students are bad at reading. If you hated any of the books that you were assigned to read in high school, try giving them another shot. High school readings live in a weird world. Students turned to summaries and movies in lieu of the books, or would skim through as fast as they could. We complained about the length and about the incomprehensible symbolism. We were convinced in our infinite teenage wisdom that the symbolism we were taught was the result of pretentious English professors reading too much into simple stories.

A few weeks ago, I reread the Great Gatsby. And I was surprised to find to find out how wrong we were! The book was short, even tiny, compared to what I remembered. I found the plot easy to follow, and remembered a lot of the symbolism I had studied. And I remembered how ridiculous I thought it was at the time, things like the eyes from the billboard looking down over the people or Gatsby watching Daisy’s house from across the bay. And I realized that these insights weren’t frenzied speculation; they were obvious enough that they barely qualified as subtext.

So I’m left wondering, why was high school me so bad at reading? I have a few theories. The first is I think being obligated to read something fundamentally alters your relationship for the text. You don’t have a choice over the genre or the deadline; it becomes homework and added to the stack of things you have to get through. I think another advantage is that I had read the book before. It’s easier to understand when your brain isn’t trying to break the language apart or understand the plot. (Although I recently read Crime and Punishment and didn’t find it too difficult) And finally, I think it helps to be older. I’ve gotten through lots of reading in high school and college, and it has probably made me a better reader. In fact, I can think of several books that I attempted to read on my own that I had trouble with as a youngster. Things like the Lord of The Rings, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the Speaker for the Dead were quite difficult to understand. I don’t think they would be nearly so difficult now.

If high school reading left a bad taste in your mouth, give these books another try. You might be surprised. I’ve been surprised by how many good books there are out there. I’ve gotten a lot of amazing recommendations from friends, from curated book bundles (like Humble Bundle and Story Bundle), and even from picking random books off the library shelf (Thanks for buying great books, librarians!). And if you are currently a high school student complaining about the awful books you have to read, just give it a few years, you might change your mind.

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Creating Maps for Eccoes

I’ve been working on a new game mode for Eccoes and I needed to make a new map. My current maps were stored as simple text files with symbols:

It was an easy way to store the information my map needed, but it was a huge pain to edit. It was hard to tell my maps were square, since the individual letters are not. And I had to be careful that my edits didn’t mess up the formatting I had in place.

My original plan was to look for a program that would let me edit my text files like a grid. However, I found a lot of suggestions to use a tile editor and read in their file formats.

I decided to use Tiled Map Editor to build my maps in. It looked reasonably popular, had an easy to parse file format, and supported placing objects on the map. And instead of spending time learning how to parse it, I grabbed a Python library to do it for me. I was going to use tmxlib but it recommended a more specific library for games like pytmx. The potential advantage of pytmx is that it integrates with pygame and create usable image objects for my sprites. Right now,I’m just using it place my walls and set spawn points for my players, but I will appreciate having the ability to craft complicated maps and have pytmx handle all the graphics loading.

The Tiled Map Editor made building my maps way easier than editing by hand, and I was able to replace my old map system very quickly.

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Returning to Eccoes

After at least a year of laying dormant, there’s been some motion on my game.

First, I came up with an idea of how to make multiplayer interesting. I had this conversation at least a year ago, but was mulling the ideas over again and decided that the mechanic could be done in a simple way and would be a good way to test if it is actually fun. Direct combat in a game where both players are constantly time travelling is clunky. I’d have to build a lot of systems to allow players to respond to attacks that are happening to them in the future / past and I don’t envision it being intuitive or fun. Instead, I imagined that the different players are agents trying to set history in a certain way. So, one team is trying to preserve an event, and the other is trying to disrupt it. A simple scenario would be trying to assassinate or save a VIP. I imagine the attacking team would very quickly score a kill, and then each side would effectively be taking turns trying to override the previous action.

Before I get there, however, I need to address my buggy netcode. I think I made two changes that will minimize the problems I was seeing, but before I try to start aggressive testing things, I need better tools to observe and recreate problems. I’m going to be adding two stages of logging. First, I’m going to log all of the actions taken by each player as well as when it happened. Second I’m going to log all of the network messages that each player receives from the other. I want to be able to load either one of these files and replay their contents. This way I can diagnose the next desychronization that happens.

Third, I was recently reading a book on becoming a game designer. It was a great read and geared to those who like playing video games. The author made very clear that there was a big leap from thinking up half-baked game ideas to doing so professionally. He took shots at the budding game designers who are so worried someone might steal their ideas, and those who never finish a game. It helped me realize that I don’t really want to be a game designer, and it has helped me see why I’m working on this project. I want to improve my coding skills, especially my architecture. I’m debating whether or not I want to release the code as open source. On the one hand, I want to showcase the progress I’m making as an engineer. However, I have the fear that releasing the source might somehow get in the way of releasing this as an actual game sometime in the future. I don’t know.

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