Improbable Island Message of the Day (MoTD)

Sad news (edited 2021-09-17 16:00)
Admin CavemanJoe2021-09-17 16:09:55 [Permalink]
Asa Comeno, one of our most dedicated players, has passed away. He joined Improbable Island at eighteen years old; he would have been thirty next week.

Asa was a chef. He began feeling ill last week, but wanted to get through the weekend at his short-staffed restaurant before going to the doctor, reasoning that it was unlikely to be COVID since he was vaccinated. Edit: see update below

97% of the people who are dying of COVID are unvaccinated, but there's room between 97% and 100% for heartbreak, and Asa died of COVID at home on Sunday. He leaves behind a wife, sister, brother, mother, cat and two children. One is a few months old; the other had his fourth birthday yesterday.

From his widow, sent to a Discord group shared by Asa and his Improbable Island friends:

I wanted to thank you all for the love and support you have been sending my family. I want you to know that you all meant so much to him. He was constantly telling me of all of your writing adventures (sometimes talking so fast with excitement to share it with me that I couldn't keep up). He would always show me photos from your groups that he thought would make me laugh and telling me when he found out that one of you had an interest that I do (like watching Outlander). He was excited each year when your Christmas cards started arriving and would tape them to the back of our front door so they were always visible. I wanted to thank each and every one of you for making my husband's life an enjoyable experience and giving him a creative outlet. I thank you for every smile, laugh and friendship he had because of you. You meant the world to him, and I wish I had been getting to know you all under different circumstances. Lastly, I wanted to share with you that I made sure to mention his online friendships in his obituary and would like to ask you all a favor. I am planning to speak at his service (I hope I can manage it) and I would love to share any messages you had to or about him. I think his family would be amazed by how widespread his friendships really were. Please share the messages here with your OOC name and location. Again, thank you all.

Specific details were shared with a small circle; others who have fond memories of him can send messages of condolence to my email at cavemanjoe@gmail.com and I'll pass them along. The funeral is on Sunday and I don't want to hand Asa's widow a big file of things to read out one night before she has to read them, so please have your messages to me by Friday evening, the 17th of September. I realise this is short notice and if you send me a message afterwards then I'll still make sure it gets there, after giving Asa's family a couple days of space around the funeral.

Asa's widow also set up a fund for funeral expenses, likewise shared with those closest to Asa; it would not be appropriate of me to broadcast the address to a wide audience, so if you have a financial contribution to make, you can send it to me via PayPal (address donations@improbableisland.com) and I'll send it along as a lump sum on Monday. I'll cover the fees both ways. To avoid entangling the Island's finances, please don't use the game's Donate button for this; just go straight to PayPal's website and send from there. If you're reading this after Monday September 20th, you can still send money and I'll still send it along, but please follow it up with an email to the same address so I can keep it all straight.

Aside from financial donations and messages of support, Asa's friends want you to know - and I agree - that the single best way to honour his memory is to get vaccinated, and not to give up on getting your loved ones vaccinated too.

Asa's account, Mementos and Places will be preserved as they currently stand, for as long as Improbable Island is online.



Over the past eighteen months of Things Our Grandkids Will Ask Us About For A School Project One Day, a lot of us have gained a particularly ghoulish little wrinkle to our grief processing behaviour. When we hear that someone close to us has died of COVID, we burn with questions. We ask if they were vaccinated, if they were in good health, if they were doing any other risky behaviours - we try to find the differences between the person who's died and our own loved ones. We pattern-match. We find the shape of the deceased and we compare it to our own shape and find the differences and we tell ourselves "Phew, that's all right then" because we want to believe that there's some sort of sense to the world, some sort of justice, some inherent rightness that will protect us.

Asa Comeno was an Improbable Island player in his twenties who was fully vaccinated.

Just like you. Maybe younger.

If this were a story, then this would be the moment that we all realised that our patterns match too closely for us to still tell ourselves those comforting lies, and it would spur us into taking this seriously again. There would be some sense of reason for Asa's death, some narrative-bound feeling that it happened to at least frighten the rest of us into strapping our N95's tight over our breath because we want to live damn it, we would talk our reluctant loved ones into getting the vaccine that would give them a fighting chance, we would hunker down and do what we've had practice at and we would claw back a few more lives from this awful piece of history we're struggling through. There would be some reason, some sort of justice.

Here's a thing that Terry Pratchett once wrote about justice, in the novel Hogfather, where the anthropomorphic personification of Death is talking to his human granddaughter Susan:



"All right," said Susan. "I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need... fantasies to make life bearable."

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

"Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little-"

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

"So we can believe the big ones?"

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

"They're not the same at all!"

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET - Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME...SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

"Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point-"

MY POINT EXACTLY.




Pratchett was talking about the sort of stories that we tell ourselves. Specifically, he was talking about the stories that make us human, and keep us human, and keep us alive; stories where the death of someone we hold dear can spur us, inspire us, force us into saving some lives, starting with our own. We're all here because we like stories, and some of us are really good at telling stories; I hope we can make this one stick.

When an Improbable Island player dies, I only hear about it if they were so heavily into the game that they told their spouses or partners or friends about it, often enough that that spouse or partner or friend logs on to their account and tells me or their in-game friends about their passing. That's a vanishingly tiny minority. 99% of players who die just... stop logging on. If they were fairly quiet - most players are - then we might never even know.

Right now I'm sat in the upstairs loft that is Improbable Island HQ, trying to imagine whether all the Improbable Island players who've died of COVID-19 would fit in this room with me. I imagine them reading this over my shoulder as I'm trying to figure out how to stop more of you from dying.

Asa Comeno's friends asked me to add a bit on this MotD asking you all to take COVID seriously, get vaccinated, and be especially paranoid about your health. This is unanimously endorsed by all Improbable Island staff.

Asa was really special to a lot of people, not just here in our world but in his as well. A father, writer and chef; it's rare to find someone who deals in so many different kinds of nourishment.

We'll miss him dearly.

~CMJ

Update 2021-09-17 16:00: Ophelia Hawthorne, Asa's widow, posted this in player chat last night:

---
The MotD brought me to tears. I only feel the need to correct that Asa was not vaccinated. He wanted to be but he put so much of himself into his work and everyone else that he never made the time to get his own vaccine. Get the vaccine guys.
---

If you find yourself in Asa's position, wanting the vaccine but not being able to find the time, you have my sympathy. Being a parent myself I know how it feels when a dozen equally-urgent things are tugging you in every direction, you haven't slept properly in months and you have to decide which of these equally-urgent things just don't get done - and yes, taking time to get vaccinated will mean that one or more of the things you have to do won't get done. I guarantee that the consequences of not getting vaccinated will be more severe than the consequences of skipping anything else on your list. You have a list of things to do because there are people who rely on you to do it; those people need you to be alive.

Be safe,

~CMJ
Our new default desktop skin is finally live!
Admin CavemanJoe2021-09-10 02:16:56 [Permalink]
Hey folks! After months and months of development, our new desktop look is finally here!

Lots of you have been following along as I made little changes to the Beta skin, so for many (most?) players this won't be a surprise. For those who logged on today and went "Wait WHAT THE" let's have a look at what's changed and what hasn't.

First, new fonts! Take a gander at the Display Menu at the top of the page. Under the Fonts submenu, you can choose from four different fonts in both serif and sans-serif flavours, and OpenDyslexic is there too for our players who find it helpful. Anything you click on this display menu should take immediate effect.

Second, we've got background graphics now! If you check the Colours & Backgrounds submenu, you can choose whether the game will always have the background you select (from the classic leather backgrounds or the snazzy new graphical backgrounds) or whether the game should change the background based on what your character's doing. The default behaviour is to put the Jungle background on the Jungle, the Outpost Walls background in Outposts etc and use your chosen background if the game can't decide on what background to use for the specific scene you're in. More scenes will be wired into the background-changing system in the coming weeks, and Place owners will be able to play with this system via Contraptions and Contrivances this winter.

Third, the Layout submenu will let you change the line spacing, whether your stats are across the top of the screen or down the right side, and spread out the navs for easier poking on tablets etc.

This new look isn't completely done; I've still got a lot of places where I need to tell the game which background to display, and I've still gotta wire in the night-time/sunny/rainy bits that'll give a real sense of space to the Island, but we've got to the point where the "Beta" skin has been tested so thoroughly that we know it works well, and in many respects it works better than the old "Horizontal" skin. Having said that, not everyone was testing the Beta skin, so if you find any rough patches or bugs please do use the Problem Report link and let me know about them.

This has been a long, long project and a lot of work done late at night, and I'm so glad I can finally show you all.

Have fun!

~CMJ
Monthly Memento delay (UPDATE: it's here (UPDATE UPDATE: time/weather integration on beta skin))
Admin CavemanJoe2021-09-04 00:19:15 [Permalink]
Hey folks, this month's Monthly Memento will be delayed as Nerv is starting virtual kindergarten and we're cleaning up after a basement flood. I'll have it for you in a few days; in the meantime, donating a tenner or more will get you a Mysterious Blank Item which will eventually change into the Monthly Memento, whatever it ends up being.

Sorry for the delay and have fun,

~CMJ

Update 2021-09-02:
Hey folks, the Monthly Memento for September is the Recycled Crayons. This week Nerv started virtual school (which is a metashambles of supposedly-interacting proprietary systems shepherded by a Technology Integration Specialist, which is like an I.T. person except your job is to try to bully shitty software into talking to other shitty software, try to push hyperactive kindergarteners and furious parents through the resultant shit soup, and die of a stress-induced heart attack before 40) and it's going about as well as could be expected, so this month's Monthly Memento is hastily recycled from a good one I did a few years ago. It's a box of crayons that give different buffs. Use it once a day to get a crayon, and either use the crayon or gift it to someone.

Out of character metanote: All the teachers and support staff are doing the best they can in the situation they're in, and right now the best they can is a complete shambles. That's because they, personally, are a shambles. We've had eighteen months of deadly global pandemic, of course they're a shambles. I'm a shambles. We're all a shambles. Frankly if Nerv's teacher shows up to work vaccinated, uninfected, wearing a mask and at least halfway sober, then I'll give them an automatic C+ just for not actively making things worse. Now is a time to really work out our patience and understanding muscles and give a bit more slack to those who are honestly trying their best. After the shit we've been through, and are still going through, we're all gonna have things we've got to work out. I'm treating those around me with more patience than I would have pre-2020. I hope you're all doing the same.

Once again I urge any remaining unvaccinated Islanders, in areas where COVID-19 vaccines are available, to discuss your hesitation with your doctor. Delta is not fucking around and the longer you wait to make your decision about whether to get covid or the covid inoculation, the less likely it is that you'll be able to make that decision yourself.

Have fun and stay safe,

~CMJ

UPDATE 2021-09-03 02:16 UTC: Yeah I'm not having an MotD disappear after half a day, I'll tack this onto the end. What with Nerv's school and everything else I'm into the "Evenings and weekends" thing for the Island and if you're on the Beta skin you'll notice that time and weather effects are now hooked in and working. Next up I'm gonna start doing the world map terrain integration and then I think we'll be ready to finally take this thing out of beta!

Have fun!

UPDATE 2021-09-04 00:15 UTC: Some dynamic skin integration is now live; click the Display Menu then Colours & Background and under the Dynamic Background Changes heading, click to clear your background selection cookie. The background will then change automatically when in the jungle, outpost, at new day, and when travelling on the map.

(some map squares aren't displaying the correct background, because the world map graphics don't match up with the terrain type used in the backend. This has been going on for years but it flew under the radar because it wasn't terribly obvious. Now that the page background changes to show the type of terrain you're passing over, it's incredibly obvious. I'm gonna have a stroll over the map soon and fix the squares that aren't as they should be)

~CMJ
Small Beta skin updates
Admin CavemanJoe2021-08-12 20:19:01 [Permalink]
Hey folks, just keeping you all updated on Beta - today I finally figured out what the heck was up with iPad support of the new Beta skin's background images where combined with CSS variables. This means I could return to an earlier, more flexible way of doing the new themes, which I'd previously abandoned because I couldn't get it to work on iPads.

(I won't bore you too much with the nitty-gritty, but the biggest difference between the two systems was for Place programmers - in one system, they'd be able to choose from a list of themes, and in the other they'd be able to mix and match image and mood gradient sets, with much more variety)

I also added Swamp, Water and Mountain themes, so we have more terrain types covered (I'd like to tie this into travel on the map).

In completely unrelated news, if you have a PS4 then I heartily recommend you grab Ultimate Chicken Horse while it's on sale. The devs aren't paying me to say this, it's just that I haven't had such a good laugh playing a video game in a long, long time.

Have fun,

~CMJ
Monthly Memento, pixel art in Beta skin, OpenDyslexic font support, COVID-19 Delta variant
Admin CavemanJoe2021-08-07 17:22:02 [Permalink]
Hey folks! The Monthly Memento for August is the Multi-Shot Teleporter! It works like a One-Shot Teleporter, but you get to use it repeatedly after a four-game-day cooldown.

I've made a few new pixelly versions of the Beta skin variants, using different artwork that stands up better to pixelization. I've also added a River variant, which was pixelly from the getgo. These new versions are much more environmentally-friendly than their high-def counterparts, and still give a pretty good sense of space. On average, the new versions have a file size of around one tenth the non-pixelly versions, which means huge savings in energy and greenhouse gas emissions at every step between the Island's data centre and your computer. When multiplied by 40 to 60 million page views per month, little differences can add up really quick. It's hot as hell here in Pennsylvania so expect me to go down the energy-savings rabbithole a bit more before we're done.

I've also added OpenDyslexic to the list of font choices in the Beta skin. Check the Fonts menu (under the Display menu) to try it. Some folks might have an easier time with this font than others, although you might want to also bump the line density under the Layout menu.

A rare serious update here, especially for those of us in the USA: the Delta variant of Covid-19 is here, and it's not fucking around. If you live in a country where vaccines are available, and you've been putting off getting one, I implore you to ask your doctor about it. Plenty of folks figured they had a low risk of getting or spreading the disease and were putting off getting the vaccine so as to let the elderly and immunocompromised get first dibs - if this describes you, I applaud your patience, but those of us at most risk have all had the jab now and Delta is killing and hospitalizing people who previously didn't have as much to worry about. Again, ask your doctor, they (usually) know what they're talking about - don't trust me, I'm just a stranger on the internet, and the internet is full of bullshit.

Have fun and stay safe,

~CMJ
Double Donations Day
Admin CavemanJoe2021-07-29 05:49:43 [Permalink]
Hey folks, we're doing a double SP day 'cause Nerv's turning 5 and I'm turning 38 oh my god what even is time I was in my twenties when I started this.

Check the sidebar beneath the donations slot to see if donations are still doubled. For avoidance of doubt, this means not only Supporter Points but also crate drops are doubled too.

Have fun,

~CMJ

EDIT 2021-07-29 oh shit I was already 38
More beta skin updates: pixelated backgrounds
Admin CavemanJoe2021-07-22 19:29:16 [Permalink]
Hey folks, as I'm sure you're aware the weather is getting PRETTY HAIRY OUT THERE, and at the same time I'm updating my website (which up until very recently weighed in at under a hundred kilobytes) to use great big massive high-def graphics, each of which has its own tiny carbon footprint which when multiplied by tens of millions of pageviews per month adds up to... well, I hesitate to use the term "crime against humanity," but put it this way, there's room for improvement.

So, given that the Beta skin's page background graphics are more to provide a general "feel" than to be looked at closely, I'm experimenting with using much lower resolution images and letting the browser resize them up to big.

Up until fairly recently, putting a small image on your website and telling the browser "make this big" resulted in a horrible blurry mess. Now, we have a method to tell the browser not to make it a horrible blurry mess, but instead resize it the way an old console game would resize something - just make the pixels bigger.

This works great on some skin variants, and not-so-great on others, but by converting our background images to pixel-art-esque low-res versions, we go from around 200kb of images to around 30kb, a massive reduction. So far I've made alternate versions of the jungle, pub, outpost walls and dark stone variants - dark stone and outpost walls work well, jungle and pub not so well. So in the coming days I'll be looking for better source images for variants that don't convert well to a pixelly form. Keep an eye on the beta skin for updates on that front.

Have fun,

~CMJ
New Monthly Memento, embuggerances, catching up, accessibility
Admin CavemanJoe2021-07-14 19:27:36 [Permalink]
Update 2021-07-14: I've spent much of today on accessibility features. Bars (such as the health bar, experience bar, nutrition info in restaurants etc) are now made out of divs instead of tables, and have alt text applied to help out our blind players. I've also added some landmarks to the Beta skin (landmarks help a screen reader to jump quickly between sections). While I was in there and thinking about bars I gave them a little cosmetic prettyup for the Beta skin adding a subtle shadow effect, hit CTRL-F5 to see it. I plan to deprecate the text-only "Accessible" skins in the near future to concentrate on making the Beta skin accessible to everyone (it seems daft to have an accessible skin and an inaccessible skin), so if you use a screen reader and can think of things that'd make playing more fun, please let me know. Have fun, original MotD follows.

Hey folks, it's been a long time since the last MotD! Things got really suddenly really crazy here at Improbable Island HQ, for reasons I won't go into... oh heck alright I'll go into one of them, we had a week of BIG BIG RAIN around father's day and shortly afterwards I heard a ponk ponk ponk sound while I was in my basement workshop. It was a pinhole leak in a copper pipe, surrounded by green. "Huh," thinks I, "guess I'd better cut that sucker out and fire up the blowtorch and solder in a new pipe section," and then I discovered all the other new green bits that were weeks or days away from popping. Our best guess is the flooding upset the chemistry of the local water supply just enough to make a complete bollocks of my ancient pipes. To cut a very long story short, this extrapolated out a bit but now it's over. I hope.

Anyways, this meant I made a Monthly Memento for July, tested it to make sure it worked perfectly on my test server, uploaded it to the live server, and then basically didn't log on for a couple of weeks to see it fail perfectly. So I've spent much of this morning chasing down bugs in July's Monthly Memento. I guess at this point I should tell you what that is, and it's the Non-Functional Tulip!

It's a combined piss-take of billionnaires and a nakedly gratuitous bare-faced cash grab.

I had this idea for a Monthly Memento taking the piss out of Non-Fungible Tokens back in late May, but I knew I'd have to do some interesting programming to make it work the way I wanted it to, and I gambled on whether anybody would still care about NFT's in a month's time. That was probably a mistake but I think I just about got away with it, timing-the-zeitgeist-wise.

The Non-Functional Tulip works differently to other Monthly Mementos in several ways. First, you can have more than one; you get another every time you donate a tenner or more. Second, every Non-Functional Tulip is completely unique, having its own serial number and pattern of petals. The more you donate, the more petals your tulip has.

"BUT FOR GOD'S SAKE WHAT DOES IT DO," I hear you cry. Well, the clue's right there in the name, it doesn't do much. This is a piss-take of a weird and appalling thing that rich people do for no reason, after all. You get a minor all-day Stamina buff, and there's a possibility of a Requisition payout bonus. More expensive tulips have a higher chance of adding the Req bonus. That's about it.

"WELL FOR GOD'S SAKE WHAT'S A NON-FUNGIBLE TOKEN," I hear some of you cry, and I envy your innocence. Treasure it.

Anyway, if you donated to get this month's Monthly Memento before today, the 13th of July, then you'll have gotten one that didn't work properly and was not unique - or, in other words, you have a non-functional Non-Functional Tulip. The difference between Non-Functional Tulips minted after the 13th of July and the earlier ones is that the earlier ones are all the same, lacking serial numbers, and not unique at all. To compensate for this disappointment I've given you another tulip, a working and unique one this time, and re-given you the same number of Supporter Points you bought with the first non-functional Non-Functional Tulip. Perversely, there are now more unique Non-Functional Tulips in the game than there are faulty non-functional Non-Functional Tulips, making the faulty ones a rare collector's item akin to a misprinted stamp or a fucked-up coin with an upside-down date code or something. I wonder what will unfold there.

Anyway I'm gonna crack on with some new skin stuff and some accessibility fixes, have fun!

~CMJ
Another quick skin update
Admin CavemanJoe2021-06-15 20:01:50 [Permalink]
Hey folks, I've got my testing ipad and the first thing I noticed was how much of a pain in the arse it is to try to hit navs accurately, so there's now an option in the Beta skin to make the navigation links a bit easier to poke with a finger.

I've also made a little update so that line height expansion works properly in things like lists of Places on the map; hit CTRL-F5 if you don't see the change.

Have fun!

~CMJ
New Monthly Memento, more SKIIIIIIN
Admin CavemanJoe2021-06-10 19:41:31 [Permalink]
Hey folks, the Monthly Memento for June is the Hydrating Juikebox. I hope you enjoy this silly typo-based Memento.

In some skin update news, there's now Stone and Outpost Wall variants on the Beta skin; check them out and let me know what you think.

I think I'm nearly ready to start wiring this skin up to game environments!

Have fun,

~CMJ
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