I’m not much of a fan of “free to play” games although I don’t consider them to be the worst thing to happen to gaming either. What I can say is that I feel very little sympathy for parents moaning about the bills their children have run up through in-app purchases.

They’re games aimed at children with free and paid for elements. We’re not talking about something with the complexity of, say, an A-10C Warthog simulator:

Any adult capable of legally signing a contract for a mobile phone should be able to discern whether the business model used is going to be a problem for their child or not.

Being technologically inept is fine but there are consequences for it, much like being illiterate. Some things are going to be hard or near impossible. Either learn how the modern world works or ask someone for help. The shame is in remaining ignorant, not in asking for help.

I’m not trying to say that creating games designed to exploit the situation isn’t scummy. It absolutely is. The reason I see little justification to give more criticism than that is because, really, it’s how our whole economy works. A 2l bottle of branded soft drink can be had for around a pound at the supermarket much of the time. A 500ml bottle costs about as much (sometimes more) at the newsagent.

“Exploitation!” I hear you cry. Of course it is – our economy works by exploiting disparities. Information disparity, time disparity, etc..

In this case the games create a disparity in emotion. To the developers it’s not important whether the player finishes the game or not, only whether the player pays or not. Putting progress behind a paywall exploits the player’s emotional attachment to the game – either quit or pay to continue. It’s not exactly rocket surgery to figure this stuff out and I don’t consider it unreasonable for a parent to be able to determine what the “catch” is.

The game is free – what’s the motivation behind that? Is it a developer who wants attention in order to promote other games? An open source project? Or is it freemium?

If it’s the latter consider whether paying for a traditionally priced game might be better. Parents care about their children enough to kick up a fuss, as they should. Wouldn’t it have been easier to apply a little critical thought to avoid all the trouble in the first place?

 

Recording of this post.

Jenny is sometimes Mary Poppins level nice. People like that do exist who aren’t complete saps – now you know. One of the reasons I say this is because she writes to sick children for fun (through Post Pals).

As part of this she sometimes talks to other volunteers on the organisation’s Facebook group. Today someone asked about ideas for Halloween-themed gifts for a teenage girl which resulted in me being asked too.

Normally I can come up with all sorts of fun ideas but this one ran into an artificial roadblock and got me thinking. What to get her depends on much more than her age and gender and without more information it’s intensely difficult to get it right.

Thinking back to my own time as a teenager I remember how much it would get to me if I was treated as younger than I was. This would usually be through being patronised or lumped in with younger children. It still annoys me today but it’s nothing compared to the kind of anger it would elicit back then.

The issue here is self identity. We live in a society where consumerism is king. We’re encouraged to buy things to act as more than merely status symbols – they’re external indicators of our chosen identity. Fancy clothes, accessories, phones, foods, electronics, on and on.

Of course as a teenager we can rarely afford these things and so have to shout a lot louder. Furthermore we’re not necessarily certain who we are yet. To have an adult then address us in a way other than how we’re currently defining ourselves puts us in a precarious emotional position.

So trying to suggest a Halloween-themed gift for a girl between thirteen and nineteen isn’t exactly easy if we take the time to consider her feelings.

Perhaps it’s not that interesting to others but I like to be able to understand why certain things annoy me so much. Being patronised is easier now that I’m an adult because a basic level of adult-ness is assumed. As a teenager the baseline tends to be “uppity child” at a time when internally the self image is fluctuating wildly.

I’m so glad I rarely have to give or receive presents.

 

Recording of this post.

This year I’ve been working on improving my writing output and at times it has been a bit tricky. I can’t say it’s been difficult to write, more that at times writers’ block strikes for days at a time. Difficulties aside I don’t feel my writing has improved significantly but then again without an English teacher to evaluate my work I’m at somewhat of a loss to determine whether there has been any change.

Instead I started thinking about other skills that might be easier to noticeably improve and which would be of use. One of those things is my reading ability. I can of course read without issue but I tend to stumble when reading aloud. Not so great for anyone wanting to do voice over work!

S1200001

This in turn led me to consider what I could go about reading to deal with this issue. Maybe I should spend some time creating spoken versions of each of my blog entries?

To date there are nearly 500 posts on this blog and whilst I probably wouldn’t go further back than this year’s posts it surely wouldn’t be too insurmountable?

Embedding on the other hand is a little tricky. For now they’ll just have to be files on Google Drive:

Here’s a link.

Dat aliasing.

27 September 2013

It’s a little surreal; I have a collection of old Linux games lying around from around the turn of the millennia. That doesn’t explain why I find it such a strange experience, it’s just the setup.

These games were mostly published by Loki Software between 1998 and 2001. There’s some great titles in there that I’d love to have time to play again. Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Sim City 3000, Unreal Tournament, and other gems from the past.

I had a bash at getting Sim City 3000 running a few months ago without much success and after a few hours of tinkering gave up. Such wonderful games from an ill-fated attempt to make gaming on Linux a viable and enjoyable activity.

Today we Linux gaming looks like it might, just maybe, be the next big thing. Valve are releasing a machine running it, more and more developers are actively supporting it, but the legacy isn’t really there. Games from that time period still mostly run under Windows (I would imagine at least) so it’s a little tragic to find that these old classics seem to be utterly broken. I have the files necessary to play them right here, they’re not lost to the ages, but as Linux marches onwards they’ve slipped into obscurity.

 

Side note:

One thing I’ve stumbled onto whilst researching this post is this:

Linux Installers for Linux Gamers

Unfortunately it seems like the beta section of downloads is broken at the time of writing.

Increasingly I’m finding myself lost when it comes to Linux podcasts. Years ago I loved Lugradio but it’s gone and never coming back. To fill the void it left I tried the Linux Outlaws podcast, The Linux Link Tech Show, and the Ubuntu UK Podcast. Sadly not one of them works for me.

I’ve tried my hardest to like the Ubuntu UK Podcast but it’s just so damn difficult. In the past I’ve written in with things I wanted them to talk about and without fail I’ve been disappointed with the outcome.

For instance in the recent past I reinstalled Ubuntu and tried to use Skype, installed from the Canonical partners repository. PulseAudio made a total hash of it. I remember when PulseAudio was introduced – it was atrocious. The plan was that it would be brilliant once the issues were ironed out. That was nearly ten years ago.

Wanting to find out what the state of play with regards to it I wrote an email to UUPC. What I got was basically “Having issues? Go ask on the forums and they’ll help you!”

I’m not sure how they managed to confuse a discussion topic with a support request but apparently that was the case. If they simply didn’t want to discuss it they could have just ignored the email – popular podcasts get a lot of email and reading them all out simply isn’t possible in the available time.

In the last few days Valve have been unveiling SteamOS. It’s a Linux distro based on Ubuntu geared towards gaming.

Again, I wrote to UUPC to suggest this as something to talk about. They did talk about it for a few minutes but managed to sound intensely bored by it. I’m intensely glad I asked them not to mention that it was me who submitted it.

I can understand that they might not be interested in gaming but as I understood it I thought they were interested in Linux’s popularity, adoption rates, positioning in relation to other operating systems, and selling points.

As someone who loves Linux I find the notion of the future of gaming possibly being on Linux to be incredibly interesting. It represents a shift away from Windows on a consumer level that so far has been near impossible to crack. Whilst there are games on Linux there’s barely any compared to what exists on Windows. What if that changes? What would that mean for non-gamers in terms of software becoming available?

I’m actually struggling to synopsise here simply because there’s so much to talk about on this point. Amazingly this excitement boiled down to a sarcastic remark about how little it interested one of the hosts (around the six minute mark).

What am I supposed to listen to now?

Playing Team Fortress 2 today I had a little chat with some other players that ultimately saw me leaving the server and blacklisting it. This wasn’t some sort of intense shouting match or expletive laden exchange, just a quiet conversation.

The problem here is that terms like “furfags” and hateful remarks aimed at “bronies” annoy me a great deal. For a start I cannot abide the homophobic slur “fag” and no, I do not consider it a word that has been repurposed to mean something different. Tolerating such behaviour as if it were normal and acceptable simply doesn’t sit right with me.

Similarly taking issue with “furries” baffles me. How does that have any relevance in the context of TF2?

In some ways I’m glad about the way Google are making efforts to make YouTube commenting less anonymous. In plenty of contexts I’d rather have anonymity but there is a great deal of responsibility that comes with that kind of privilege. Apparently for the most part humans cannot treat each other with anything approaching good grace when not accountable.

When on servers I try my best not to moan too much but if homophobic or racist slurs are being tossed around as if they’re acceptable I will speak up. I’m not the target of the remarks but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m part of the temporary community that exists within a server population. If I stand bearing mute witness as this kind of poisonous behaviour goes on I honestly would struggle to live with myself.

I hope that in the near future things like player behaviour tracking can help to crack down on this sort of thing. Just because we’re shooting at each other doesn’t mean we need to be terrible human beings while we do it.

Apparently an event at Trumpington village hall was cancelled recently due to fears that it might be a bondage workshop.

Putting aside the odd notion that such a thing is something to be frightened of I instead find myself wondering where one could reasonably hold such a thing. I can understand, for example, that events before a certain time of day might need to be family friendly, but if that sort of problem was dealt with surely such an event would be appropriate for a village hall?

I know that we have this very old fashioned attitude in Britain when it comes to anything beyond what the actress said to the bishop but surely such a workshop at a village hall is appropriate in this day and age. As long as it was clearly (but appropriately) advertised I can’t really see the harm.

That said I’m not trying to be knee-jerky about this. It would appear that the group were somewhat deliberately misleading when they booked the venue and so cancellation does seem a reasonable reaction. It’s the reasoning that I question and the kind of atmosphere that exists that would lead to it such a group feeling the need to be deceptive.

I would hope that by the time I have children these sorts of things are common enough to be an obvious inclusion in sex ed. for teenagers. At this stage I think it’s probably about time for us to get over our fear of actually having fun exploring these things as a society.

Today someone asked me which multiplayer games I play. I gave it some thought and realised that even all these years later I still barely play any.

In terms of games I’ve put any time into all I could come up with was these four:

Battlefield: Bad Company 22011-04-12_00001

PAYDAY: The Heist2013-04-20_00001

Team Fortress 2

2013-07-09_00001

Battlefield 3

(I haven’t got a screenshot of this one because Origin doesn’t have any screenshot functionality)

Of those titles I barely play Battlefield 3 any more and the first two have been retired.

The person asking me was apparently 15 and this made me think back to when I was their age. We had dial-up internet access for the most part and later a paltry 0.5/0.25 Mbit broadband connection (Down/up) with pretty terrible latency.

Despite having lived in cities since 2006 I’ve still never quite got into the concept of multiplayer gaming. I some how feel excluded through lack of understanding. The communities that exist seem so ethereal as to be completely impersonal. I’ve no real way of assessing people’s personalities or forming any relationships with them.

Perhaps there’s something I’m not understanding about multiplayer gaming but by now I would have thought I’d have learned to appreciate it.

Following on from yesterday’s post I wanted to share some other ideas I had for a wedding/reception to make it a little more novel.

Trading cards.

Each table would have a binder with a slot for each attendee. Cards would be there for each person based on a suitable formula covering the people on their table and some randomness. That sort of thing might have been hard years ago but these days we have sufficient access to information and tools to be able to create such things without issue.

Each card would have a photo, a few stats (approximate age, height), and some facts on them. The facts would cover things that would enable conversation and leave everyone knowing a bit about all the other guests.

The distribution of cards would mean that each table would need to talk to the others and swap duplicates in order to create a full set. Due to the scale of the event it would only be a matter of maths to ensure that enough cards were in circulation to make the task doable.

Dance contest.

Personally I’m not much of a dancer and as such wouldn’t expect my guests to be good either. This idea isn’t about making light of that fact for the purpose of humour. No, that’s harsh.

Instead I’d want to organise an instructor and several practice sessions in the lead up to the wedding. The instructor would also be there on the night as a guest with duties (as in a guest most of the time except for the slot in the schedule that was on them).

Not only would those sessions help ensure people didn’t feel too lost but it would mean they were a little more bonded rather than feeling lost in a sea of strangers.

Photo contest.

With the advent of Twitter, hashtags, and the ubiquity of smartphones I’d love to have a screen or projector showing a stream of tweets and photos.

Using ImageMagick one could run a server that created photo collages automatically. Every few minutes the thing would refresh adding in the latest pictures taken, for example.

A panel of guests would pick some winners, perhaps with input from the couple (depending on time).

I’m not actually that fond of competition in the traditional cut-throat sense it seems to often mean. This factors into how rewards would work for such things. Prizes could be special trading cards that would complete the set, or “foil” versions of them. Nothing too important but a little unique trinket that wouldn’t create too much ferocity in the contests.

I have some other ideas that are more about ensuring the event is well thought through but they’re not as interesting to write about (lockers, hangers on suit racks with unique colour combinations, QR code scavenger hunts for children). There’s bound to be other things too – these were just a few things I came up with over a cup of tea with the help of my better half. These events should be creative, fun, and memorable. Personally I find awkwardness officiated by a middle-aged DJ to not be my interpretation of that idea.

scoIlP6

I saw this on Reddit and it got me thinking about what I’d want for my own wedding.

I’ve not been to all that many weddings. My family is small and most of my friends haven’t been the kind to marry early. Personally I’m not sure when I intend to wed – I’m in no hurry. That said I like thinking about innovative things to do at events.

I cannot imagine spending tens of thousands of pounds on a wedding. Some people do it and it boggles my mind. That said I can see my own wedding ending up either dirt cheap or costly without much middle ground. Cheap would cut the guest list down, keep the venue as somewhere I could get for free, etc. etc..

On the other hand expensive would require a venue, catering, live music, etc..

What interests me most is how to turn an expensive affair into one that feels worth how damn dear it is. Lots of weddings I’ve been to have seemed very costly and ultimately left me rather bored.

Photography, for instance – what are the photos for?

I may have seen a photo of my parents’ wedding but I’m not even sure of that. My old lady found a picture of her folks’ one in a box of photos that had lain undisturbed for several decades.

Unless a photographer is free I’d rather spend the money on having a documentary made. Being able to record “director’s commentary” for such a thing sounds like a great way to commemorate the event. Said documentary wouldn’t focus on the couple, it’d focus on the experience for the guests. A few minutes on the couple here and there would be good but I don’t think there’s all that much of interest on that front.

Taking that into account perhaps one should try to create things that would actually make for fun scenes. A dance contest, for example!

I have more ideas than that but I wanted to fit in a post explaining the angle said ideas were coming from.

School days, school days…

20 September 2013

Whilst listening to You and Yours I found myself scratching my melon. A house with remote access to cameras, blinds, TV, lights, and many other things was discussed. It seemed novel but ultimately technology for technology’s sake.

What had me puzzled was when reference was made to the notion of AI. There were questions about whether the house had a mind of its own or not.

This sort of thing seems to come up a lot when it comes to technology and it flusters and aggravates me. Perhaps it’s due to the amount of science fiction that exists within modern cultures but it seems to me that the majority do not know that AIs don’t currently exist.

We have the term “AI” but as of yet we do not have artificial brains capable of independent thought. If we did do these people not think it’d be known about? Wouldn’t they expect endless documentaries?

I may not know the precise way a manual gearbox fits together but I am at least able to give a description of the mechanical principles involved in both an internal combustion engine and a drive train. I do not look at a car as something with fuel inputs and a steering wheel connected to a black box with the word “magic” printed on it. This goes for every bit of technology I own or use. I might not be able to draw a circuit diagram but I understand the concepts that make it possible.

So with such a house my primary question is “What kind of power source is used for each controller and how much does it draw?”

After that I think about how an app might securely connect to it and what sort of latency one could expect if using a data connection (and how much data is used in order to use it whilst roaming).

What doesn’t cross my mind is the idea of the system having a mind of its own. The system may have routines and learning algorithms but it’s not a brain in a jar.

In this instance I imagine the line of questioning was mostly to allow for anecdotes and pad out the feature but it is the sort of attitude I’ve encountered when dealing with older generations of adults. They see “computer” and think “magic and AI” from what I can tell.

Yet they also feel they are well informed enough to lecture on legislative policy with regards to technology. Now that’s disturbing.

I just finished watching the finale of Burn Notice.

Yeeeaaah.

Today I’d like to talk to you about core competencies and what happens when something loses sight of what those are.

Essentially core competencies are the central things which define a thing. Hamel and Prahalad define them as:

  • Not easy for competitors to imitate.
  • Reusable widely for many products and markets.
  • Contributes to the end consumer's experienced benefits and the value of the product or service to customers.

Management speak abounds so perhaps it’s better to explain it in terms of Burn Notice:

  • Spycraft
  • Humour
  • Drama with resolution

It had a particular style and whilst there was drama it wouldn’t become overwhelming. Ultimately things would work out okay in the end and there’d be plenty of blueberry yoghurt.

Sadly towards the end of the show it worked more towards emotional handwringing, drama, conspiracies, and lose-lose situations. Both Jenny and I were so checked out when it came to the narrative that by the end the last few episodes were completely needless even when big things were happening.Execubots

This trend had been going on for quite some time sadly because it seems that American television networks care more for money than their reputation. It comes as no surprise but it’d be nice if they could simply pick up shows that fit their needs rather than twisting and distorting things to fit.

I wanted to watch something fun, somewhat light hearted, but also involving gunplay. I didn’t want to watch implausibly vast conspiracy theories, angst, and soul-searching sacrifice. There are other TV shows for that stuff.

His name was Michael Westin and his show used to be fun to watch.

I’m currently having an argument with O2. I stopped allowing them to take money from me via direct debit for precisely these kinds of eventualities.

At the end of August and the start of September I made a few calls to Npower to close my account with them. Obviously I was on hold for a bit but thankfully not extended periods. These calls were made from the only phone I have, my mobile. I haven’t had a landline in several years (partly due to the expense and partly due to the only calls I received were spam for PPI).

0800 numbers are free from landlines but not on mobiles.
“Not a problem!” Thought I, cheerfulness in my smile and hope in my heart, “I’ve plenty of free minutes to use up!”

Of course then the bill came and it seems the number didn’t count towards those minutes. In fact it was charged at around 20p per minute.

91WtV98

Why is this considered an acceptable state of affairs?

I can’t imagine that it costs the phone networks much to provide access to freephone numbers for free (like all the landline providers!) but to charge a premium for it is outrageous. Sure, it’s not zero hour exclusive contracts or Trident but this seems like an issue that will affect many UK citizens on a regular basis. It’s solvable and straight forward. Who wants an easy win?

Unsurprisingly I got in touch with O2, paid my normal phone bill, and told them that they could either have the fees or me as a customer. Is it worth losing a long term customer over a debt of £6.85?

Yesterday I talked about how lots of old games are having their engines reimplemented making them playable on newer systems. Today I want to give an example of how this has been awesome for me personally.

ResidualVM got a mention for obvious reasons but also because I had a bit of fun with it.

I played through Grim Fandango on my mother’s laptop many years ago. If I mention it she still recognises the specific game I’m on about (my mother was never an “everything’s a Nintendo” person but I can’t say she knew the specifics either for the most part). I still listen to the soundtrack and wish I could experience more of the world that Tim Schafer created.

So obviously I want to share it with others. I have a Raspberry Pi setup in my living room and figured it’d be more fun if the game could be played on my TV at a suitable resolution.

Unfortunately ResidualVM isn’t available as a package for ARM-based Linux systems. The source code is there though and the dependencies aren’t an issue. Being that it’s an open source project that just meant grabbing the code and compiling it myself. This is something Linux detractors have often claimed is a regular thing for users of the OS. These days that’s complete bunk of course but it’s a little novel to do it from time to time.

I was amazed to find that the game compiled perfectly and ran straight away:

residualvm-raspberry-pi

Unfortunately it ran a bit too slowly to be playable. I would imagine with a bit of tweaking of the environment I could squeeze better performance from it. The audio didn’t work but that was something on the operating system level. I’m planning on fixing that and having another bash at it. I figure later in the program’s development there’ll be optimisation work that makes it run better.

The point being though that despite not being created for the RPi the nature of the code meant that it took less than an hour to get the game up and running on something else.

I don’t know about you but I think that’s pretty cool.

So many jumpers…

16 September 2013

One of the things I’m enjoying as we progress in terms of home PCs is the way old games are becoming playable again.

It might seem an odd thing to say if you’re not familiar with the difference between today’s tech and that which existed fifteen years ago but it does make sense. Back then Windows consisted of Windows 98 and its family – sort of sitting on top of MS-DOS. These days some people still think MS-DOS is under Windows for some reason but that’s not the case. From Windows 2000 onwards the Windows NT codebase was used.

Hardware also changed considerably – lots of things were written in a more bare-metal style, to the point where PCs had “Turbo” buttons.

turbo

Essentially they’d change the clock speed of the PC in order to allow things coded for slower machines to run. Not faster machines, slower ones. Otherwise they’d run too quickly and become unusable.

So as you can imagine old games built for this stuff have issues with modern operating systems. That sort of thing is being solved though.

Take an old favourite of mine, Command & Conquer: Red Alert. I wouldn’t bother trying to get it running these days. It may well work under Windows with a bit of jiggery pokery but what if I’m running Linux? Maybe Wine would work?

Or I could use OpenRA:

ss3

OpenRA is a Libre/Free Real Time Strategy game engine that allows the recreation of the early Command & Conquer titles.

OpenRA currently includes three distinct mods that reinvent C&C (Tiberian Dawn), C&C: Red Alert, and Dune 2000.

Cross-platform multiplayer is supported between Windows, OS X, and Linux, and singleplayer skirmishes against bots.

It would seem that the single player campaigns aren’t yet available but I’m sure they’ll get there eventually.

Then there’s Theme Hospital, a classic management game from Bullfrog. It’s getting reimplemented in CorsixTH:beta4

I shouldn’t forget to mention a few others such as ScummVM, ResidualVM, and OpenTTD. There’s probably quite a few others but those are the most active ones I can think of.

One thing that also fills the gap is DOSBox:

DOSBox is emulator software that emulates (loosely: "simulates") an IBM PC compatible computer running the older operating system, MS-DOS. Many IBM PC compatible graphics and sound cards are also emulated.

[from Wikipedia]

It runs on a list of platforms as long as my arm (check out the unofficial builds section of the Wikipedia article) but it’s not quite the same as a reimplementation. I say that because it means that things run as they originally did, i.e. at a resolution marginally larger than a postage stamp*.

Either way though it’s pretty cool how things are being preserved for future players. Admittedly I imagine that means old players reliving things in the future. Half these old things probably stray too far from what the younger gamers have grown up with to be any more than a historical curio from their perspective.

 


*Sidenote: As it happens if we assume that stamps are printed at 300 DPI at the very least then a standard first class British stamp (20 x 24 mm) actually has a greater resolution than old games!

20 x 24 mm @ 300 DPI = 236 * 283 = 66,788 pixels

Prince of Persia (1989) had CGA graphics, i.e. a resolution of 320 x 200.

320 x 200 = 64,000 pixels.

With no scaling that means the game looked like this:

Prince of Persia CGA

Runciter crime scene

15 September 2013

I was just thinking about lying.

A few minutes ago I was reading about learning to lie convincingly and a little statement came up. "If someone could tell if you're lying they'd just call you a liar."

Personally I work hard to never lie. Many people have been offended by my truthfulness, I'm sure. I'd rather that happen than insult them by being dishonest. Similarly I expect my friends to tell me the truth. Perhaps they don't. That's a shame if it's the case.

The way I see it they lessen themselves by lying to me. I don't need to be able to tell if they're lying. They should tell the truth and if that is a problem then the failing is with them. If at all possible I try to create an environment in which they feel comfortable telling the truth. I would rather have things arranged so they can lie but choose not to do so. I'm answerable to myself and I feel they should have to square their own actions similarly.

That said compulsive liars are cut from the roster. It's not "bending the truth", it's a lie. If that wasn't the way it happened why say otherwise? Falsified anecdotes are pathetic. Either get out there and do the things claimed or learn to be the person who didn't do those things.

Unless you're a replicant. That's a little more difficult to deal with...

I’ve been using the Scratch forum a lot lately and find it both educational and perplexing. The main factor here is that most of the forum users are at least half my age, if not younger.

It’s educational in terms of being able to talk directly to younger people and see how they react to being treated like little adults. The perplexing bit comes in when seeing how well behaved they seem to be.

They avoid using (or actively self-censor) words like “damn” and “hell” (words that at their age I wouldn’t even have considered swear words!).

They respect forums that require them to be over 13 (things that technically require COPAA forms to be submitted).

They’re polite in an oddly naive way.

I find this a little harder to handle than other interactions online because I want to do my best to teach without upsetting. I don’t want to be the creepy dude that tells them that life isn’t a nice place and tries to scare them.

Of course wanting to educate does mean mentioning things that may be new and potentially difficult for them. One of the primary things I want them to understand is that grown ups can be fun too. At their age anyone my age might as well have been from Neptune!

Back then there was nothing like easily accessible forums that anyone, any age could use. If they weren’t a family member or tasked with supervising us then they basically didn’t exist in my world. Adults were all older with long established lifestyles and careers.

The idea here being to show them a glimpse at what yesterday’s post dealt with – life doesn’t have to be a stiff and serious slog towards retirement. It might not always be easy but there’s lots of fun to be had if one doesn’t let that part of oneself die.

Teenagers are in the process of having their corners rounded off by the tide of society. Younger children are somewhat shielded from that and still have that spark. I hope I can encourage more of them to keep that spirit alive well past their teen years.

I’ll close by saying this: Father Christmas may not be real but on Thursday you bet I’ll be talking like I’m from Somerset.

It’s pretty rare for me to make a post that’s Tumblr-like but it seemed so relevant to my current lifestyle. The artwork isn’t his, although it is in his style, but the words are:

Here’s a spot of extra detail about the piece.

What was “tracking” for?

12 September 2013

It’s finally happening. Some of the skills I’ve spent years learning are becoming obsolete.

Thankfully the skill in question actually translates fairly well to other things but it’s still sad to see that its original use is going the way of the VCR repairman.

The skill in question is forum management. Time was that everyone and their dog was trying to setup a forum. It still happens but much less so. There’s a set of ways to do it right and a lot of ways that nearly guarantee failure.

The first thing being sparse conversation. Perhaps it’s attractive to some people but my experience tells me they’re very much in the minority. What I’m talking about in a rather circumspect fashion is simple – don’t spread the conversation out too much.

New forums often have five, ten, or even more subforums. Creating them feels impressive and important. I know, I’ve done it. But If you’ve got ten active forum members with a topic each that makes for one, maybe two topics in each section.

tumbleweed

Better to have one or two sections with five to ten topics each! That way the place feels a bit busier and as if new sections may be required soon.

Furthermore rather than saying “Here is a subforum for subject X” only to find that the active forumites aren’t actually all that interested in talking about it there are other ways. By having a general section one can see which subjects get a lot of activity. Those things can then be spun off into their own sections and the topics moved across. Voila – a new active subforum.

With the decline of forums these sorts of tips are increasingly irrelevant but hopefully they can soon be repurposed for something similar. New forms of social media, perhaps.

One last thing: do you really need moderators? Probably not.

Don't-call-me-Mr.-Thumpy

11 September 2013

A while back I tried an MMOFirefall.

I really didn’t like it. Reading people talking about other MMOs really puts me off, as it happens. There’s talk of “instances”, “dungeons”, “raids”, and lots of other meta vocabulary. How immersing.

The notion of an MMO to me is a living online world. A place to be explored with other people. A form of guided escapism.

From the way people talk about them the way players treat them is a combination of IRC and spreadsheets. There’s no “magic” to it, for want of a better term, just a set of mechanics for players to hammer against. To me that sounds about as fun as chess.

Sure, chess is loved by many, but to me it has such a narrow set of defined moves as to be uninteresting. The amount of skill and forethought needed to play lends itself to a very pared-down game driven by finesse. Perhaps that’s fun to some people. To me it might as well be playing Rock Paper Scissors with a random number generator for all the fun I have.

Similarly the notion of an MMO to me is an emotion-fuelled game driven more by the feeling it creates than the way the numbers work. A truly living world thanks to the fact that one isn’t alone in it.

At least EVE Online makes the numbers matter due to the fact that it’s effectively an unregulated economy. It’s hard to have a stake in items found in the world when the numbers are the only thing players care about.

Sometimes I see a project that I love the concept of but fear that the creators have approached with a sense of childlike glee rather than stoic pragmatism.

Phonebloks is one of those:

The notion of a modular phone appeals to me a great deal but I fear that such a concept is at best a utopian dream. Short of one of the big companies jumping on board and throwing all their might behind it I simply cannot see it happening.

Overcoming the technological hurdles to make it happen is arguably just a question of time and money. I’d be willing to bet graphene and carbon nanotubes will be involved somewhere along the line. That’s not the issue here.

The status quo is.

Why would big companies sacrifice their big chunks of the market and the vast profits that come with it in order to make something that benefits someone other than themselves. Good PR is valuable but I very much doubt it outweighs the kind of money that exists in the smartphone market.

That said I still support what Phonebloks is attempting to do, I just don’t hold out much hope of it succeeding.

I may have ended up somewhat addicted to something…Cookie Clicker

It’s a game called “Cookie Clicker”. It’s not currently “free to play”, “freemium”, or anything like that, it’s just free.

What I found interesting about it wasn’t that it was addictive but that I could look at it and understand how the underlying game mechanics were programmed. I’m considering trying to recreate it just to see if I understand it correctly.

Plenty of people on Scratch have started things but not really finished them. Given the licensing model one agrees to by publicly sharing projects on the Scratch website it’s totally okay for me to grab someone else’s work and redo it.

You might think that would undermine my objective but actually it’s to do the opposite. Focussing initially on interface and looks is usually a bad idea, one I want to avoid. Plenty of others on Scratch have made that mistake and put together nice looking interfaces without any real core mechanics behind them. I figure that I’m interested in the mechanics and I might as well use a pre-built interface to get on with the job.

I’ve not forgotten about my other Scratch project but I’ve managed to lose my notebook. The code is documented with comments but I found my notes oddly inspiring. I splashed out 40p or so on a new one but it has yet to receive barely legible scribblings.

Want to try my Cookie Clicker save? I’ve no idea why you would but it’s here should the mood take you.

I wish I was a more prolific sculptor. I try but there’s a limit on how much I can produce in a single day. Sometimes it’s something like creative block, other times I’m enthused but unable to get the putty to sit right, but ultimately I guess I’m just not that driven.

No matter how hard I work it isn’t likely to translate into vast wealth or fame. That’s okay though, I’m not hugely motivated by those things, but it does mean that I feel comfortable going at my own pace.

It doesn’t help that it takes quite some time for me to get a product to a ready state. On the work bench at the moment there’s, amongst other things:

  • Orc Legs
  • Orc arms
  • Orc big guns
  • A whole figure Orc sculpt
  • A goblin leader
  • A small vehicle
  • A large vehicle
  • A four-legged mount
  • A set of multi-part armoured humans
  • Mutant critters
  • Small weapons

Given that there’s multiple hours of curing for each piece when some work is done on it a large selection is actually a plus. The thing that’s frustrating me is the fact that until they’re done there’s little point in me being active on social media. Promoting my brand isn’t really worth much until I have a suitably large catalogue of things to consider my product line.

Perhaps one day I’ll discover how to motivate myself to give a bit extra but I don’t know how to even go about learning that about myself. I suppose I’ll keep plugging away and practicing so I can at least work a little more quickly.

No, I don’t use TeamSpeak.

07 September 2013

Some days I find it very easy to write three blog posts. Other times several days will go by with me wrestling with what to write about. I find it a little odd that the amount of stuff that interests me on Reddit and the like comes in bursts like this.

I had considered that it’d be a subjective thing, the content not being the problem, but when I look over /r/Games I sometimes see thought-provoking content.

Other times it can be summed up as follows:

  • Stuff about the PlayStation 4
  • Trailers for games I’m not interested in
  • Something about gaming tournaments

Sure, I don’t always want to write about videogames but they’re often jumping off points for me. I suppose the reason for that is fairly simple – it’s an agile industry.

Given its huge reliance on technology and the fast pace of change we’ve come to expect lots of interesting developments seem to stem from it. There’s also the observation aspect – I couldn’t bee there to watch film become the medium it is today but I can be there for video games. We’re constantly learning about how humans react when given agency in situations, what we didn’t expect to enjoy, and how we assign emotional meaning to things. Oh and if guns don’t sound right the whole experience feels wrong, much like car door design.

But despite all that some days it does seem to mostly be about something boring in League of Legends or someone doing a livestream of themselves playing some godsawful NES game that the entire US has rose-tinted glasses for.

The rise of crowdfunding things has provided something that I find rather satisfying – communication.

If I see a Kickstarter project that I like I’m actually able to contact the people working on it and usually (that is to say on every occasion to date) I receive a prompt, friendly, and personal response.

I asked the developer of Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet about the resolution of the game. I don’t really want a game that’s only 800 x 600. On my monitor that’d look fairly lousy without lots of filtering, ScummVM style. The art style lends itself to vectorisation though and so I sent Alasdair a message asking about it. We had a chat about it and hints were dropped that there would be further details on the matter soon.

More recently there’s this:

It’s kinda nifty and looks like it’d appeal to several people I know.

That said I find the world of it somewhat impenetrable, a fact I’ve done my best to convey to the developers through a conversation on Kickstarter.

We’ll see whether it’ll help of course but I’m still pleased that I’m able to have a natter with them directly rather than feeling like I’m talking to some sort of droid publicist.

Getting someone else to handle your marketing is fine. Ideally they shouldn’t spout canned guff though.

Thankfully I’ve yet to have that experience on Kickstarter. I suppose the low budget nature of many crowdfunding campaigns limits the number of personnel a given project might have working for it. Advertising and the like are usually first to go at times like that so perhaps we’re not likely to see the teams ushered back into their pens any time soon.

Well there’s a plus.

With the kind of access to data we now have I really wonder why so many events are still run on speculation. I’ve done it before and it’s both nerve-wracking and frustrating. Once the doors are open it’s just a matter of whether people can be bothered to show up and hoping like hell the marketing was enough to get people through the door.

A while ago I read about the way Jonathan Coulton started doing things:

This was the week I first started using Eventful to track where enough fans existed to allow me to do a live show (I was certainly feeling confident!). It was an incredibly helpful source of information those first couple of years when I was figuring out how to tour. Having done my fair share of poorly attended gigs in the city before I was even semi-famous, I simply could not stomach the idea of TOURING in that way where you doggedly play to empty houses in ever widening geographical circles, hoping that people who accidentally see you one time will want to see you on purpose in the future. Just awful. So I used Eventful to identify the cities where I could be sure that wouldn’t happen (the first test of this technique would happen in Seattle sometime later, we’ll get to that). It was a great strategy for me, and really the only way I could have made it work.

Perhaps in time I’ll scrape together the resources to run a company that organises events for people using a crowd-sourcing model. Working out the details and using a Kickstarter-style pledging system. If the event goes ahead then fine, if not then refunds all ‘round.

It’d be nice if one day we could live in a world where events could actually be relied on to make money. They’re a huge job to organise and great fun, but making them financially profitable is tricky.

I really don’t like when game design refers to “dungeons”. Perhaps not as much as I actively hate some things, but it’s up there in terms of massive turn-offs.

Some people enjoy games that force a sense of claustrophobia and loneliness. I am not one of those people.

  • I like being able to take a step back from the problem and see if there’s another angle to take it on from.
  • I like to be able to play at my own pace.
  • I do not like being trapped.

If a game gives me the option of sticking with my current equipment or venturing into a dark hole to ferret out something better I’ll choose to make do. More often than not what it actually says is “Down you go if you want to progress in the story” but that’s a different subject, really.

If it was a raised construction complex from which there was virtually no escape then I’d be much happier. The same game design applies but without the feeling of being attacked by unseen enemies or being buried alive.

As it happens I’m not actually a claustrophobic person. I’m not afraid of the dark either. But in person I can physically move around things and interact with the world in ways other than “use weapon on enemy”.

It’s also to do with the idea of eliminating any pretence of a coherent game world. I’m not venturing into a building to find something, I’m stepping into a closed game environment where there will be challenges to overcome before I’m able to leave. In all likelihood there will be enemies that can use the environment to their advantage (even if my perception stats should make me the real threat).

Once the immersion is destroyed I find myself thinking “This isn’t fun, what can I do instead that will be fun?”

Much like if I’m watching a TV show that follows the “return to the status quo” model and a character is in peril. If it’s not handled well I’ll generally find myself thinking “I wonder how they’ll get out of this one” rather than “Eek, I hope they make it out!”. This is thankfully less common these days due to the rise of “anyone can die” narratives.

Returning to the original point – I dislike the laziness of resorting to such an old trope.

The player character must now fight his way through the subway tunnels to reach the override controls!

You mean beat the dungeon?

Yeah.

Can’t I fill it with flares and throw in some gas grenades to deal with the problem?

No. You’ve got to go through it section by tedious section. There might even be some traps!

Why don’t you just put my movement on rails then and we tackle the damn thing Time Crisis-style if I’ve got no damn choice?

If we take your freedom of movement away you’ll not feel immersed.

That’s totally how it works and I’m in no way uninstalling this game now.

I see that Nokia’s phone business is being assimilated by Microsoft. I’ve never seen big companies fight so incompetently for third place.

Like many others I refuse to use Windows on mobile devices due to their reputation. In all my years I’ve never seen any of their OSes be anything more than “okay”. Nokia used to produce good devices too but that was before the smartphone revolution. Perhaps we’re looking at a Yekaterinburg type situation here…

This also has me thinking about Steve Ballmer’s retirement. Will something shift in Microsoft’s strategy to make them more appealing as a company? At the moment I feel they’re about one moustache twirl away from tying a damsel in distress to something.

This isn’t a long post and barely even has much coherency to it. That pretty much sums up my reaction to MS’ strategy of late. I really don’t understand what they’re up to and find myself wondering if even they do.

They’ve been trying to shift towards a respectable position in terms of mobile hardware but all I’ve seen of it is a series of missteps supported by a truly pitiful level of half-arsed commitment. Much like EA with Origin I find it very difficult to get excited in a product that even the manufacturers don’t seem to believe in.

In our downtime we both tend to work on things to generate a bit of extra cash. At the moment that has meant sorting out gigs on Fiverr and applying for other user testing sites. Through that she has been approached to write some other things in Swedish and that involved a paid audition job.

Aside from it being a test of her abilities I found myself baffled by the request. She was required to write marketing fluff for three different brand pages on an eshop. Each was required to be ~250 words long.

The reason for my confusion is simple – it’s terrible user design. I often warn off this sort of thing in my user tests. It looks like a wall of text and through experience potential customers have been trained to see it as needless prose geared only towards biased trumpeting of the product.

For example, on the PC World site there’s this:

“Photosmart 5524 All-in-One Inkjet Printer with an extra HP 364 combo pack of ink”l_18068781

The HP Photosmart 5524 All-in-One Inkjet Printer brings outstanding image and document quality and dynamic multi-functionality to your home or office.

Wireless printer

With this incredible HP Photosmart All-in-One Printer you'll be able to wirelessly connect even when you're out and about, printing images and documents up to A4 size.

This can be incredibly useful for the mobile businessperson, designer and photographer when pictures and documents need to be quickly created for remote appraisal or dispatch. You can even scan images directly to email thanks to the brilliant WiFi connection.

With AirPrint and ePrint compatibility, you can connect and print from your smartphone or tablet for a more seamless way of working.

[source]

There’s actually three more sections like that but I felt that’d probably be enough. It’s massively generous and one step away from being actively misleading. “Brilliant WiFi connection” ? Really?

Someone is paid to write these things. Good for the person being paid, terrible for the end consumer. I’m sure there’s a few people out there who like the whole sales-person spiel but surely they’re in a shrinking minority by now?

On my own site the descriptions are there to give a bit of character to the item and provide an organic way of including search terms. For example:

goblin-ground-crew-labelled

Bringz it in slow an’ eezy like! Oh Godz!

It’s a tough life being goblin ground crew. With nothing but a pair of paddles and a high-vis jacket between you and lunatics in flying deathtraps it’s no surprise crew turnover is so high…

This model is approximately the same size as most other popular goblin models and should be compatible with other heads and bodies (the head is a separate piece). The base pictured is just for illustration – currently it isn’t supplied with one. It’s cast in resin and so some clean up may be required. For further details see our Working With Resin page.

Sculpted by Benjamin Fox. Supplied unpainted.

[source]

I don’t think there’s any point trying to point out the benefits of the product at this stage. There’s pictures, a price, and dimensions included. If there are other features worth mentioning they get bullet points. I’d rather write something endearing that hints at a fictional world related to the product rather than try to sell the customer on how awesome everything is. I’m hardly an impartial source!

Perhaps the old way works better or perhaps it’s popular because it’s what everyone else has been doing for years. Personally I find it insulting and time wasting and so choose to run my affairs differently. I’d rather go with what I feel is the best I can do for my customers.

The point being that I find it odd that this content is still being created. Part of setting up a shop on the ‘net seems to be creating useless filler text that will be ignored for the most part. To me that seems like a waste of time. Why not pay the person to rewrite such a description in a friendly, frank tone.

“Not the best printer in the world but a solid performer for the price and versatile enough to get the job done to a reasonable standard.”

That sort of thing appeals to me. I’d rather have that than “This product will fill that gaping void in your life!” and similarly false promises. But then again maybe part of the “shopping experience” is suspension of disbelief and enjoying being lied to?

KVY6EJW

Tell them it’s going to be okay. Lie.

Well that got dark quickly…

A concept I’ve seen appearing more and more on Reddit is that of a “Steam Backlog”. It baffles me.

The point of videogames is (arguably) entertainment. They’re there for enjoyment in some form.

Personally I like browsing through my Steam library and finding new things to play. I’ve bought a lot of bundles for tiny sums that have pushed my collection to nearly three hundred titles. Of those I seem to only have played about 25%. Any time I’m feeling like playing a game but want something new I simply scroll through my library and pick something. I don’t like shopping for games at the time I want to play and feel it’s foolish to do so anyway.

Essentially under those circumstances I’d be betting more money than I’d like to pay that a game will be fun. I’d rather pay less before hand and then see whether there’s any titles I love enough to feel like I got an excellent deal. The Binding of Isaac cost me very little, for example, but I’m having a blast with it. On the other hand some time ago I bought a game called Breach in January 2011 for £7.99. According to Steam I played it for 35 minutes and I don’t recall even giving it that long. It was abominable. I wanted to play and bought it with Matt. We tried it together and unanimously rejected it.

The point being that if I’d dug it out of a pile having paid a quid for it I might have found myself enjoying it a little. Instead I was resentful and felt I was being punished for paying over the odds. I’d rather have a backlog than do things this way.

Saying that, what’s the problem with having unplayed games? It’s not like they spoil (multiplayer games aside)! I can’t have a beer – I have all this whiskey still in the cupboard…

I love having a game collection. Steam just means it doesn’t take up vast amounts of shelf space. If there’s a newer game that takes my fancy I play it first. Why force myself to battle through something else first when the whole purpose of the exercise was to make me happy?!