July 11

I start the day by patrolling for yellow star thistle. I need to do this in the cool of the morning, before it gets hot. Yellow star thistle is an invasive species: a botanical illegal immigrant. It’s a nasty one, too, growing spiky thistles that stick to tires and make life hard for many creatures. I’m no racist, but I am a “species-est” — I aim to exterminate all yellow star thistle. So I pace through the meadow where I first found them, using a grid pattern to be sure to cover every square meter. 

I’ve been fighting yellow star thistle on my land for more than a decade, and I’ve made a lot of progress. It’s now reduced to a few renegade clusters, but if I don’t get these, they’ll just breed. So every year, in early July, I patrol for yellow star thistle. There’s a short window, perhaps two weeks long, during which they have reached maximum size but not yet flowered. That’s the best time to get them. If you get them too late, they’ll have set their seeds and that makes them much more difficult to wipe out.

The reason I tell this story is that patrolling for yellow star thistle is also an excellent way to think about design problems. This time was no exception. I started off by engaging in an imaginary playing through of the verb net I presented two days ago. I asked myself, “What would the player as Arthur experience?”

I walked through a typical scenario and realized that it was boring. Arthur simply assesses the tactical situation for each commander and responds with tactically appropriate orders. Sheesh, here I am thinking like a warmer again!

No, I want to present a battle as a dramatic experience, not a military one. The challenges facing Arthur must be interpersonal in nature, not tactical. Arthur must evaluate the emotional state of each commander (as well has his/her troops) and respond accordingly. This requires Arthur to obtain emotional information, not tactical information. This is best done with a series of runners arriving at Arthur’s location presenting the commanders’ requests. Such a stream of messages might look like this:

“Pellinore requests permission to press forward.”
“Morgana is falling back under heavy pressure.”
“Tristram is in desperate straits. He urgently requests support.”
“Lancelot wants to charge the enemy.” 

That’s not right. I need something better. How about this:

1. Arthur has direct observation of the field, and he gets a partially obscured view of events.
2. Commanders have horns that they use to signal Arthur. Durations and number of toots denote meaning. Sort of like a very short version of Morse Code.
3. Commanders can act on their own initiative. They’re expected to follow orders, but under stress, some will violate those orders.

Here’s a new sequence of events based on these ideas:

Pellinore seems to be doing well. His men are pressing forward slowly.
Morgana’s men are edging back. She’s trying to rally them but not accomplishing much.
Tristram’s hornman signals that he is in desperate straits. Reinforcements are urgently needed.
Suddenly Lancelot breaks through the Saxons and charges straight for the Saxon commander. The fool has left Morgana’s flank exposed; the Saxons are already moving to take advantage.

Arthur’s own verbs would remain the same, although he’d need to use his own hornman and perhaps some flags. That wouldn’t work, however, for the exhortatory messages. Perhaps Arthur could ride to the commander’s sector and communicate directly. That would add emotional emphasis to his orders.