About Me

When not at work with students, I spend my time in my room either reading, calculating something using pen and paper, or using a computer. I read almost anything: from the pornographic to the profound, although my main interests are mathematics and physics. "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." -Erasmus

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Almost a NEET

My new life as a full-time student began on June 1. Teaching duties can be quite heavy; aside from being the course group coordinator for the third introductory physics course, I also taught an intermediate  electromagnetism course, and had duties as a member of the theory group. There was little time to "just stand and stare".

I also haven't had a vacation for four years. So I'm not really in a rush to go back to work; I'll spend a month or so on doing other  non-physics or math stuff, and then when I feel the urge again, I'll go back   the to work. After all, I do have a back-log: I'm supposed to write some papers, and study new things to keep my mind fresh. For example, I never really learned solid-state physics. I also have a new edition of Arfken's math methods book, and there is a lot of new material that I want to incorporate into the mathematical methods training of our subgroup. 

For now, though, I'm wasting time playing computer games (the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion), and reading about the game mechanics (there's a wiki that I found useful). In particular, I've finished the main quest  of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and I'm slowly working my way through other quests in the Shivering Isles expansion. I've always enjoyed role-playing games, and Oblivion happens to be the game I'm playing this year. (I've also played Fable, and Neverwinter Nights 2.

I suspect that my current obsession with the Elder Scrolls goes back to one of my frustrations while I grew up; I never  got to play Dungeons and Dragons. It was just ill-luck; knowing the game mechanics and access to the game itself meant three things about your peers:a minimum amount of brains, the geek factor, and money. Growing up in the pre-internet era meant limited exposure to rpg's. (The nearest thing would probably be the Choose Your Own Adventure books).  I also didn't have my own computer until about four or five years ago. In fact,  I was only able to learn how to play DnD after playing Neverwinter Nights 2, and then reading some of the online material on the mechanics of  the game.

Aside from spending my time playing Oblivion, I've also enjoyed reading about how the game works, and I find discussions of the underlying algorithms good reading as well. I've downloaded the construction set to play with and maybe make my own mods. It's one way of experiencing the fun of being a dungeon master; I've always admired creators of good game content, and it's one way of experiencing what game development can be like. I will, though, need to keep things within manageable limits, so that what is really just one of my hobbies won't overshadow my main occupation.

One of the nice  things in electronic versions of role-playing games was the removal of some of  the hassle when playing the game. The dungeon master in DnD actually has many roles that a computer takes over: creating some of the game content (for example creating random dungeons), describing the game setting and non-player characters and creatures, and then ensuring that  players follow the rules of the game. 

Combat in DnD for example, involves some computations and record-keeping, since (1) whether you succeed or not in an action, and (2) the damage you do on enemies is dependent on the roll of the dice, and stats of both combatants. Instead of rolling a d20 die and looking at the stats and making some computations, your computer does all that for you. Your computer takes on the role of dungeon master, and the gameplay is therefore much faster. In Oblivion, there will be a similar set of rules (that I'm still in the process of figuring out.) One nice touch is the way the game implements marksmanship using bow and arrow. The arrows follow a parabolic path, and so one has to take some that into account. 

I'm actually having fun figuring out the rules. Sometimes, (especially now that I've done the main quest) understanding the rules makes the actual game quests take a backseat, since playing with the character and seeing how it interacts with the gameworld has its own fascination.