A key element of modern games is often the heist, caper, or in the case of cyberpunk-esque games, the „run“. The common part here is that the target is usually a complicated and large system, full of people, computers, security systems and other components.
In movies and books, we follow the crew through their preparations and then see them pull off the perfect caper, where each element more or less seamlessly enables the next part, until it all comes together in a showdown and ends with the heroes walking (or running?) off with their ill-gotten gains.
There are quite a lot of attempts to map this into game mechanics, and here is my own one:
It introduces two concepts:
the network map of the entity that is to be robbed
Lets start with the network map. It could look something like this:
The goal is to escape with the loot from the vault. Except that as long as there is someone or something to call reinforcements, things will go bad. And if the vault door isn’t opened, they can’t get to their loot in the first place.
Researching this network is the usual preparation phase for the players, where they can dig for information, ask around, bribe people, steal floorplans, and so on. It might even be that you, as the DM, don’t even have the network map prepared but you create it with your players as you play along.
In the end, the map shows the possible choke points that need to be taken out, as well as the objectives that need to be met. Either directly, or indirectly.
And that is where the second core idea comes into play: Cascades. I’m stealing those from the boardgame hit Pandemic. Disease occurrences are marked by adding little cubes to a city. Whenever there are three or more cubes of the same type in one city, there is a virulent outbreak. That means that every neighbouring city also receives a cube. If that tips them over the 2‑cube-is-safe limit, there is an outbreak too.
Let’s apply the same idea here, but with a lower limit: If there are two incidents at one place, it triggers the cascade. So if Joe the Guard does not get his coffee from the Cantina AND the toilet is clogged, he’ll fail at his job (calling the reinforcments in case he sees anything). And that means that the „Reinforcements“ node gets its first little cube.
A similar effect could be achieved by simply taking Joe out (kidnapping, poisoning or bribery for example), but that might not always be possible — and it won’t create a cube at Reinforcements.
So, the planning and execution phase means that the crew selects points in the network, take them out and hopefully create cascades that take out adjacent points for them.
This isn’t playtested, but I think it should be fun to run things this way!
I have had 3D printers in the house since 2015. But it took 5 years and a lot of frustration until I finally got to a setup where I am happy with what I am doing.
It began with a positively tiny M3D Micro — a very basic, consumer-grade 3D printer with a proprietary slicing software, no heated build bed, and not a lot of power. Especially the very small print area coupled with no heated bed made it a device I never really got a lot of use out of.
Eventually I upgraded to a CR-10S, then later tried to replace that with an Artillery Sidewinder, but the gist is: I love 3D printing, but not tinkering with 3D printers. And most, if not all of the <1000 Euro devices are in the end things you need to tinker with. Replacing the fan shrouds, choosing the correct hot ends and nozzles, upgrading the mechanics, the software, writing your own configuration files and measuring e‑steps… it is the equivalent of owning a vintage car, so you can get your hands greasy.
Which is not me, so after the printer again ate all the filament and had the nozzle or extruder clogged, I gave all of the stuff away to a local maker space and was ready to give up on the hobby completely.
Based on the insight that there are printers made for me though, I finally caved and spent way more money than I initially intended for this hobby and bought an Ultimaker 3, quickly followed by an Anycubic Photon Mono SE. As a result, this is my setup:
The sideboard is a workbench-on-wheels, so I can move it around in a pinch. It houses all the accessories for the printers: Extra filament, resins, isopropanol for cleaning resin prints, breathing mask, nitrile gloves, extra paper towel rolls, small tools, and so on.
On top of the workbench, you find the Ultimaker 3 (UM3), sitting on a thick countertop mounted on a rotating swivel. I added that because the filament spools are attached to the back of the printer, which is also where the feeding mechanism is. Getting to those is a bit hard, so having it easily swivel is a pretty handy thing. The heavy countertop helps to minimize vibrations spilling over onto the print.
The UM3 is a Fused Filament Fabrication printer that takes spools of plastic filament, forces it into a hot metal tube where it melts and then through a fine nozzle drawing a line. Through an assortment of gantries and motors, it can draw these lines into basically any shape, lowering the print bed gradually to build up a true 3D model. The good thing with the UM3 is that it is designed for commercial use. That means that it comes with a good workflow for easy handling, and has parts that can be swapped out without any hassle. It „just works“. And when I want a finer or bigger nozzle, to have more details or more speed, I can swap those out in a few seconds without any special tools.
I also added a hood on top of it, to keep the warm air inside, which tends to make things a bit more reliable. But that is it really for modifications — otherwise, this is a stock printer. And I must say: For functional parts or bigger things, this is a very good machine, and I am very happy with it.
Next to the Ultimaker is a small air filter. I run that whenever I am printing with resin or filaments that emit obnoxious fumes. It has a VOC (volatile organic compounds) filter too, for extra safety.
Next to that is the Photon Mono SE, a masked stereolithography, or MSLA printer. It works by shining UV light through an LCD screen onto the transparent vat filled with resin. The screen lets only parts of the UV light through, and where the resin is exposed to it, it hardens. Then the build platform is raised a bit, liquid resin flows into the gap, and the process resumes until a threedimensional object appears from the toxic goo.
The upside with these printers is that they are insanely detailed. The downside is that their build volume tends to be rather small. The other upside though is that they are mechanically dead simple: Just a platform that moves up and down. That means that the main pricing factor is the LCD screen that blocks the UV light. As a result, even the cheap versions of these printers can be pretty good. You pay more if they are larger, faster, or have a better resolution (but keep in mind that the cheapest MSLA printer will probably blow the most expensive FFF printer out of the water in terms of resolution!)
The Mono SE that I have is a mid-priced one. It has a higher resolution and is a lot faster than the cheaper options. Also, the housing is made of metal, and that kinda appealed to me.
The printer and the Wash&Cure station next to it sits on a silicone mat, to make resin cleanup a bit easier. Because trust me: That stuff is nasty, and you do not want it on your skin, nor in your eyeballs or lungs! It is thankfully pretty easy to protect yourself though: Wear nitrile gloves and a respirator, or at least a paper mask plus eye protection in case of splashes (I already wear glasses anyway, because I have bad eyesight). While the printer runs, ensure you have good ventilation. I added a 4″ hose to the back of the printer and use that to draw the fumes out of the flat, which works surprisingly well. The active air filter is just an extra precaution on my end.
Functionally, the printer is otherwise stock too — although I added a few accessories:
a lid for the resin vat, so I don’t need to always put the resin back into the bottle between prints
a small plastic gizmo that allows me to hang the build plate over the vat at an angle, so the remaining resin can safely drip back onto the vat
The last thing on the table is the Wash & Cure station. Once the prints are done, I’ll pop them into a wire basket and drop that into a bucket of isopropanol. The bucket has a magnetic impeller at the bottom, and the W&C station has a motor that makes it spin, thus agitating the isopropanol and giving the prints a good rinse, washing off all remaining liquid resin. Once done, I dry the prints and replace the bin with a rotating plate on the W&C station. The prints get put onto that, a UV safe hood on and then the station slowly rotates the plate while exposing the prints to more UV light. That „cures“ the prints, so they don’t feel sticky anymore and are properly hardened. The results are frankly astounding:
At the side of the workbench is a holder for a roll of lint-free paper towels, to clean up messes and such.
Overall, I am quite happy with the current setup. Everything works fine, and I can start FFF prints from my desk (the UM3 has wifi). For MSLA prints, I still handle a USB stick, but that is actually fine for me, as I need to go there anyway to pour resin, prep the surface with paper towels, etc.
On the computer side, I use the following resources:
tinkercad.com and Microsofts 3D builder for creating or modifying models
For the UM3, I prepare the prints with Ultimaker Cura (which can read the printers settings and inserted filaments through the network and also sends the print jobs directly to the printer)
For the Mono SE I am still figuring things out, so I am switching between the Photon Workshop that came with the printer and Lychee slicer. The latter seems nicer, but won’t work without registering and connecting to their cloud on every use.
There’s probably oodles of articles like this by now, but this is mine.
So, since roughly march last year, I’ve worked exclusively from home. At the start, I simply plonked down the company laptop on the dinner table, but then gradually reworked and upgraded the setup.
This is how it looks today:
Let’s break things down bit by bit, and explain the history and purpose of the individual parts.
The monitor is an ASUS 34″ gaming monitor that I bought when I finally retired my old All-in-One deskop PC and got a plain midi-tower unit instead. That PC is fit for gaming, and used to sit on top of the desk, behind the monitor. Alas, the company laptop wants to be used daily, so I needed a permanent space for it. That means that now the PC is strapped to the side of the desk.
The desk itself is a motorized standing desk. As you can see, it is pretty deep, but only 80cm wide. It is that deep because by now it is old enough to buy alcohol in the States. And back in 2000, desks had to fit ginormous CRT monitors. The small width is due to the fact that it originally was part of a combination next to a much larger desk. When I was still working in Hamburg, it accompanied me through several offices (all part of the same company group), and when I moved to Berlin in 2015, they let me take it to my new home. Having it in the living room is ok, as it doesn’t take up too much space, and the cats appreciate its placement close to the window.
When I sit, I sit on an IKEA stool. It is one of these ergonomic things that keeps wobbling a bit, thus allegedly strengthening my back.
Eventually I attached the monitor to a heavy duty arm. The main purpose of that arm is to free up desk real estate. The rather bulky original monitor stand, plus PC, plus Notebook, plus peripherals made the desk too cramped.
As the PC is strapped to the side of the table, I also managed to route all the cables more or less prettily.
All I/O peripherals like mouse, webcam, keyboard, etc. are attached to the monitor and a switching USB hub. So when I switch devices, I press one button on the USB-switch and also select a different input on the monitor. That is pretty painless and saves me from constant re-plugging of devices.
For the longest time, I used a Logitech BRIO webcam. It is nice enough, and especially the built-in microphones are pretty decent. But as I do not live alone in this place, I most of the time use a set of Bose QuietControl 30 Bluetooth earplugs. The battery lasts for about two days of calls and the active noise cancelling lets me be undisturbed.
When I am not sitting or standing, I walk. Right under the desk sits a desk treadmill. To use it, I just push the desk back about 1 meter (it is on wheels) and start the thing up. That takes about 30 seconds of effort, and then I’m off. By now I can actually walk and work at the same time, this blogpost is being written as I am walking!
Overall, I spend about only a quarter of my desk time sitting, the rest of the time mostly standing or walking.
In order to keep my hands and wrists healthy, I have switched to an ergonomic keyboard and a wireless vertical mouse. The keyboard has a detachable numblock, and I am quite happy without that thing — I need it only rarely, and it does save that sweet desk real estate!
The monitor has built-in speakers, but frankly, they aren’t the best. Instead I plugged in a pair of Creative monitor speakers. They are small enough but have decent enough sound for YouTube videos and the occasional game.
As my job has me do lots of videocalls with various degrees of expectations regarding my „professional look“, I eventually attached a simple dark gray roll-up shade to the top of my bookshelf. In day-to-day use, it is rolled up and hidden, but whenever I do not want to show off my collection of roleplaying books, I can pull it down to get a nice clean background.
Behind the gray roll-up is a greenscreen roll-up. Using Open Broadcast Studio I can key out the background and do other video shenanigans to make my life easier and looking more professional.
Pro-tip if you want to use a green screen: Do not skimp on light. The better your lighting, the easier it is to key out the green. I added two inexpensive Neewer brand light sticks to my setup — one lives inobtrusively in the corner and the other moonlights as a workbench light and gets carried over whenever I need to do „proper“ videoconferencing.
The desk has a simple LED light stick on a gooseneck stand attached to it. It has some brightness and light temperature settings, which helps a lot with eyestrain in the evenings. As the desk has no drawers or similar, I attached an IKEA pegboard to the side, to hold cables, adapters, headphones, and so on.
The latest addition to my setup has been a Sony A7S digital camera, sitting atop a cheap camera arm. It is attached to the USB-hub via an Elgato Camlink 4K stick and thus provides quite an excellent alternative to the Logitech webcam. People I videoconference with keep noticing the vast quality difference. Having the background blurred by actual optics instead of some algorithm is really an upgrade. (which I wouldn’t have afforded myself if I hadn’t gotten a good deal for the camera from someone who realized that they didn’t use it all that often.
If you want to use your DSLR as a webcam: Check if it either has a firmware update that lets you use it directly through USB, or that it at least can deliver a „clean“ HDMI output. The latter means that there are no on-screen menus visible on the HDMI signal. The Sony A7S does both, but I learned that the USB-webcam functionality is pretty bad. It requires a certain sequence of switches each time you turn the camera on, and doesn’t work with all programs on a Mac either.
The Elgato Camlink solves that rather elegantly. The other thing I did was to get a so-called „dummy battery“, which you put into the camera instead of a battery and that then draws power directly from a USB charger. I set the focus to automatic, the camera to „video mode“ and now I just need to power the USB cable and everything works.
(if you use Windows 10 and the stick keeps disconnecting — download the Camlink capture software, click on the preferences icon while holding down CTRL and then select „Isochronous“ as USB Transfer Mode. That certainly helped me)
During the development of our second prototype “Shepherd”, we realised that permissions for truly distributed social media are a thorny thing. Within the decentralised design of Solid, we have to define how spaces are controlled in interactions between users. We also have to be mindful of preserving the context of the interaction, while also respecting the privacy of individuals who might belong to different networks, technical or otherwise.