What I've been doing since 1999

On Friday, the Torment team released the first Alpha Systems Test, a look at the opening scene of the game and its most essential systems (conversation, mostly).

Shortly after I tweeted that out, some folks wondered what I've been doing, game design-wise, since 1999 (other folks wondered what happened in 1999 which, you know, that's fair).

Here's a very brief look at what happened since:
  • 1999 -- Planescape: Torment was released to high critical acclaim (and low sales).
  • 2000 -- I got married and left my awesome-but-crunch-timey game dev job for what I commonly refer to as my Office Space job.
  • While I was at work (sometimes literally), I designed D&D campaigns and board games, drew crappy comic strips, wrote stories, and programmed games based on those stories.
  • 2003 -- I decided I wanted to actually finish something I started, so I put my other projects aside (fourth question down) and focused on writing a novel.
  • 2005 -- My wife and I moved to Thailand. I kept writing, but I could no longer pay attention to the game industry (among other things) as much as I used to.
  • 2006 -- We took in our first child, and over the next several years would increase our family to include ten children, both foster and natural. Meanwhile, I kept designing RPGs and board games (that never got played outside my house).
  • 2008 -- I sent my first novel to agents (and also started this blog).
  • 2010 -- I wrote a story that somebody actually paid me for.
  • 2011 -- I got an agent and began the search for a publisher (that search is still ongoing, though we've updated the novel it is going on for).
  • 2012 -- I started working for inXile and "researched" what the game industry had been up to since I left (read: I played games again and wrote them off for tax purposes).
  • 2013-2015 -- I wrote hundreds of thousands of words for game dialogue and systems design. I also wrote a novella, a Pathfinder story, and a number of other things I hope you'll get to read some day.

So there you go. That's what I've been doing instead of (or in addition to) designing games for the last 15 years. Hopefully that also explains why my tastes in games tend to skew oldschool.

Wells' Lair on The Flash is Braille?

I don't actually watch The Flash (lack of time rather than inclination), but my sister pointed out to me that the secret lair of Harrison Wells is covered in bumps that look a lot like Braille.

But is it really Braille? And if so, is there some secret message hidden in the walls? Since this aligns with my interests (i.e. ciphers, linguistics, Braille), I decided to investigate. There are some answers on the internet, but not enough to satisfy me or my sister. I'm fixing that now.

First, a little Braille primer. The Braille alphabet encodes the 26 English letters into 2x3 grids of dots, like so:

Braille also encodes numbers, punctuation, and other formatting marks (like capital and italics) in that same 2x3 grid. However, the only markings on Wells' wall that fit any of those Braille markings are the letters n and z.

But Braille also has a cool and ridiculous number of shorthands and contractions. The dots on Wells' wall match these. Specifically, every 2x3 grid of dots on Wells' wall is one of these orientations, rotated either vertically or horizontally:

So the answer to our first question is yes, this is definitely Braille. I didn't see a single screenshot that showed any markings that broke the 2x3 grid pattern, nor that represented any word but those above.

But does it say anything? I'm gonna say no.

That conclusion does come with a few caveats though:
  1. I only know the basics of Braille. It may be that a fluent Braille reader would be able to see a pattern that I'm missing.
  2. Because the characters are rotated, it's hard to tell what orientation they are meant to be read in. I assumed a specific orientation and stuck with that for the image above.
  3. My translations assume English Braille. A lot of other languages use these grids for their own characters too (e.g. here are the Thai consonants).
With those caveats in mind, I would call this "decorative Braille." It's possible that there's a secret message hidden in some other language or character orientations, but I doubt it.

Even if there was, I'd never find it. You start doing this long enough and Wells' face starts to look like this: