Beer Tales

Two interesting stories popped up on my various feeds this week, and it just so happened that they were about beer.

First, an article from Science Alert about the discovery of the oldest known brewery in China. Two points in particular caught my attention. First, this:

According to McGovern, the brewery processes unearthed at Mijiaya reveal a ritual that has changed little in the millennia since. “All indications are that ancient peoples, [including those at this Chinese dig site], applied the same principles and techniques as brewers do today,” he told Madeline K. Sofia at NPR.

Of course, beer — both its drinking and its brewing — has been a fairly common part of everyday life for a while, but I can’t help but wonder how the craft brewers out there will react to this discovery, if at all. Craft brewing has been in vogue for a couple of years now (the boom started sometime in 2012, if Google search trends are any indication), and its popularity is such that even geek icon Wil Wheaton and local food blogs like Pepper have gotten involved somehow. I’d imagine there are enough brewing communities around now that more-than-passing interest in this discovery might be likely, especially since the Science Alert article goes on to discuss how residue in some of the unearthed pottery reveals a “surprising beer recipe.” As projects like the Inn at the Crossroads and the unique beer brews mentioned in that same article show, the urge to “recreate” things from seemingly unreachable or irretrievable sources is not new, and there’s no reason craft brewing would be immune to it. Should we expect Ancient Chinese flavors on tap soon?

It’s not like the ingredients will be hard to get. The archaeologists behind the discovery highlight the presence of barley in the brewery’s residual stock — a detail which carries some fascinating implications:

“Barley was one of the main ingredient[s] for beer brewing in other parts of the world, such as ancient Egypt,” Wang told NPR. “It is possible that when barley was introduced from Western Eurasia into the Central Plain of China, it came with the knowledge that the crop was a good ingredient for beer brewing. So it was not only the introduction of a new crop, but also the movement of knowledge associated with the crop.”

Aside from ferrying information on how to use the grain, the introduction of barley could also have had profound cultural consequences, with the hip ingredient playing a part in helping to define social hierarchies inside China.

Here we have a fine example of how science and the humanities can mix better than their widespread (and, might I point out, false) dichotomy would have us believe. Too often we’re told to envision an irreconcilable divide between the supposedly pure quantitative work of science and the supposed qualitative work of the humanities, which is a damn shame. There are a lot of ways in which these seemingly disparate fields can and do intersect, as demonstrated by the use of this archaeological dig’s chemical findings to extrapolate cultural history.

This reminds me of another, more recent article from Science Alert, actually. Just yesterday, the site also reported on a scientific study that points to a possible explanation for the Mongol Empire’s abandonment of its attempt to conquer Europe. Climate was likely to blame, claims the study, and the evidence was in the tree rings. As the article notes, the sparseness of primary Mongolian accounts had left many historians at a loss; the study answers that problem by digging up another kind of record. Like the speculation spun from the Chinese brewery discovery, this study serves as a good illustration of the effectiveness of applying the tools and methods of science and the humanities to questions that lie beyond their many sub-fields’ usual purview.


In less “serious” news, our second beer tale for today comes courtesy of Kotaku and Overwatch fever. TIL that one of the game’s main sound effects was essentially generated by opening a beer.

“Another extremely challenging sound is the ‘hit-pip.’ When you hit someone, you need to know you made contact. The sound needs to cut through the mix but not feel like it comes from any hero. It went through tons of iteration. Finally, one night I thought, ‘It should be satisfying to hit an enemy.’ Just think about what’s satisfying: beer. So I literally opened a beer bottle. Pssht. The sound is reversed and tweaked a little, but that sound is our hit-pip.”

The excerpt above, culled from the Overwatch Virtual Sourcebook, gives us a nice peek into sound design process, especially the kind of thinking that guides the choices that have to be made in that field. Take these lines in particular: “The sound needs to cut through the mix but not feel like it comes from any hero. … ‘It should be satisfying to hit an enemy.'” Sound is a practical element in Overwatch, as in any game, and sound design supervisor Paul Lackey tells us that each sound is crafted to conform to certain specifications, perform certain functions. In this case, the practical requirement: to alert players to a hit, and to do so effectively.

But take a look at that second line, that thought that led to the beer bottle sound: It should be satisfying to hit an enemy. It still implies a function for the sound to perform, but now that function goes beyond the strictly practical (i.e., alert) and goes into the realm of the emotional. Sure, Overwatch might not exactly fall under the same category as “prestige/legacy games” like Mass Effect and Uncharted, but it’s still shaped by the recent gaming landscape that (quite like TV, at least to my barely-a-gamer eyes) envisions games not just as entertainment but as an immersive, if not meaningful, experience.

Games these days want us to be invested — more so, I think, than ever before.

Hence Overwatch laying out its setting’s history and its characters’ background in elaborate animated shorts. Hence Overwatch even having such a rich, detailed setting at all.

And hence, of course, Overwatch using the satisfying pssht of a fresh beer.


Revisiting Netrunner

In her Run Better tip on the Fetal AI website, Ohio-based competitive Android: Netrunner player Ellen Biscotti writes:

Play your tournament decks consistently. … I usually play terribly the first few games with a new deck. After that, I play it pretty well, but it takes many games before I start to really feel confident with the nuances of a deck, like scoring windows, ice placement, or timing my runs. If I didn’t stick with decks, I would never know how well I could do with them.

Since diving into earnest Netrunner play around a year ago, I’ve been playing the same factions and roughly the same decks. Biscotti’s advice agrees with my own experiences and underscores one of the things I love about the Living Card Game (LCG) format and Netrunner specifically: Unlike games like Magic: The Gathering, datapacks in Netrunner have standard contents, meaning players theoretically build from the same card pool. There are no “chase cards” or pockets of extraordinarily powerful/rare cards accessible only to players with the cash to spend, the occasional unavailability of certain data packs notwithstanding. As such, Netrunner game outcomes aren’t determined so much by specific cards or decks as they are by players’ piloting abilities; a beginner armed with a Tier 1 deck isn’t guaranteed a win against a Worlds Top 8 player who’s using subpar cards.

I point this out because, as I’ve said earlier, I’ve been playing the same decks since starting Netrunner a year ago. This includes using an NBN deck that runs the Making News identity, which comes with the Android: Netrunner Core Set.


NBN: Making News

Agenda (9)
3x AstroScript Pilot Program
2x Priority Requisition
2x Private Security Force
2x Project Beale

Asset (8)
2x Daily Business Show
2x Jackson Howard
2x Marked Accounts
2x PAD Campaign

Upgrade (2)
2x Red Herrings

Operation (16)
2x Closed Accounts
3x Hedge Fund
2x Midseason Replacements
2x Psychographics
2x Punitive Counterstrike ••••
2x Scorched Earth ••••• •••
3x Sweeps Week

Barrier (3)
3x Eli 1.0 •••

Code Gate (6)
3x Pop-up Window
1x Tollbooth

Sentry (5)
3x Data Raven
2x Guard

15 influence spent (max 15)
20 agenda points (between 20 and 21)
49 cards (min 45)
Cards up to All That Remains

Deck built on

NBN as a Corporation faction has been one of the powerhouses in the recent meta, especially with the rise of NEH: Near-Earth Hub (an ID from the Upstalk datapack) and the attendant kill decks. The release of Data & Destiny also introduced new NBN IDs, each of which has seen frequent use and even the development of certain archetypes (see: Spark Agency and its brand of econ denial). My point is that there’s a wealth of decent-to-good NBN IDs out there, and — due to my limited card pool — I’m not using any of them.

Has that harmed my Netrunner experience?

It’s 2015 and I’m still Making News

No. In fact, my Corp deck has had a good win rate since I’ve started using it, which I take as an example of how forgiving Netrunner is to people who play despite not having all of the released cards. Mine is not an optimal deck list by any means. My core strategies – score easily advanceable agendas, and/or kill the Runner who tries to steal them – aren’t novel or groundbreaking. I’m inclined to think this deck would work better with, say, a few agenda swaps, Fast Track subbing for Red Herrings, maybe even just a switch fromMaking News to NEH. But I’ve still won many of my games with this deck, and I cite that as one of the reasons why I love Netrunner. It’s a well-designed game, and the proof is in how players are allowed their successes even without having all of the cards (and certainly not all of the “good” ones).

Granted, I’ve mostly played against the 3-6 friends with whom I’ve established a weekly Netrunner group (this doubles as our meta), but I’d like to think this situation also illustrates the truth of Biscotti’s advice. Thanks to our regular games, my opponents have seen all of my deck’s tricks and have had the opportunity to tech against those tricks. I’ve managed to keep winning because, in that same period, I’ve also had the opportunity to suss out the nuances of playing this particular deck and figure out how to play it beyond relying merely on unknown/unexpected cards.

There’s a healthy competitive scene in the metro, and I’ve actually been to a Game Night once, though only as a spectator. I’m hoping to change that this year. I’d like to take an NBN deck, and will likely be taking this one, give or take a few tweaks. The addition of newer datapacks and deluxe boxes to our group’s common card pool gives me more options for improving this particular list, so I’ll be working on that. Keeping Biscotti’s advice in mind, though, I don’t think there will be any fundamental changes to the deck’s core strategies in the near future.