Interconnected

All posts made the week commencing Sunday 14 Jan., 2001:

$10 paper mobile phone to launch this year. Bloody hell. Pictures too. $20 paper web-access laptop in the pipeline, apparently.

Ah-hah, that should do it. The url hidden behind those linkmes (on the default skin, the orange stars on the framed skin) lets you deeplink to this weblog to your heart's delight.

Can't quite remember who I was talking to about this, but it's called a Zamboni, a Zamboni dammit.

Where at the Blogger clones? at WriteTheWeb.com. I've been mouthing off on the discussion board (summary: webapps need one-click 'Save as...' and 'Load' buttons, and some open file formats).

Mmmm. I've spent a happy half hour playing around with the relaxing (and Riven-like in its self-consistant other-worldliness) Flash game, Safeplaces [via wherever you are via poptart]. City, also at safeplaces.net is a darker Flash movie with an excellent minimal soundtrack.

A few random elsewhere links to thing that I think are worth reading:

  • Blog Talking Points at freakytrigger is half manifesto, half enumerated pithy comments. Enjoyable to read, even if you don't think about the content (my favourite type of writing).
  • Dan Venusberg's Magnetic Fields report saves me from also having to describe an utterly wonderful two-night experience.
  • And the more I read Neil's current Upsideclown, Suburban Gothic, the more I love it. Just so gentle, perfectly formed, and it infiltrates my mood so completely so that when it withdraws - suddenly - it leaves me there. Beautiful. The last paragraph absolutely blows me away. It's essays like this that really bring home to me how glad I am I do Upsideclown, that this kind of writing is getting a voice.

Enjoy.

I've recently been thinking about online games -- not the player versus the machine type, but players versus players. One player versus machine game is Technosphere in which you create a creature which roams an environment eating, shagging and killing other player's creatures (you're emailed all updates). I don't feel this can be classified as player versus player because you can't interact directly with other players: it's be heavily mediated by the game engine. What's more, the calculations that the game does makes it essentially unpredictable, and playing it basically the same as watching a marble bounce down one of those pyramid-of-nails games you get at a fair. You know basically what's going to happen, but you can't predict what exactly will happen and there's no cause and effect. A game with a similar premise is Terrania.

I feel that a game won't feel like players versus players unless cause and effect is clear, and the inner mechanics of the game are simple and intelligible. This very clockwork game system is used in the most successful of single-player games (Tetris, Boulderdash), with an added spice of randomness (but only in clearly defined places, like: which brick will come next). Online, self-evident game mechanics should also be used, the randomness coming from the interaction of individuals. All avenues of interaction between players should be clearly marked, with not too many options: cause and effect must be clear. It is to these attributes I place the success of Planetarion, an addictive space game where the objective is to gather asteroids, and the simple avenues of interaction are attacking, donating, defending, and voting.

And voting brings me onto another quality of these games: A successful multiplayer game will make you feel you're playing against people, not just a clever computer program. The best way to do this is to force community -- in Planetarion's case by providing the infrastructure for players in the same game locality to vote for a leader and discuss issues, like joint defence. Suddenly the game gets more complex without increasing the new-user difficulty hump. Providing the infrastructure for many communities within the game solves the scaling problem, ensuring that it's as fun to play with 50 as 50000 people. (Another aspect that makes this game addictive is that it's in real time, but carefully balanced so that time-spans of less than about a day don't really matter. Also the learning curve is very smooth: complexity increases because you gain resources and can do more in a time unit; you find your own level.)

So why this sudden interest in what makes a good game? Firstly, I'd like to make one. Secondly, because the Labour government wants to put in place the infrastructure along which local volunteer communities can grow: Local involvement - that's the new prescription. How to make this work? People feel alienated from the decision making process. It's too complex, there's no cause and effect, new volunteers will be dwarfed and intimidated by old hands.

But what if the infrastructure consisted of mediated routes of interaction? Of codified ways of suggesting ideas, of voting, of raising money? Of simple one-click routes to involvement that flattened the learning curve? It doesn't limit the amount of power these groups can have, but limits the flexibility in return for more cause-and-effect and more involvement. People interesting in making greater, more fundamental, changes can get involved in local politics. I believe that those designing systems to encourage the growth of small groups could learn a lot from multiplayer game design. So that's why I'm thinking about it. Comments, as ever, are welcome.

Presenting: Thursday's fresh Upsideclown. Neil's returning to where he grew up, and like all of Neil's writing it's calm, quiet, and beautiful. There's little more I can say but that you should read this piece: Suburban Gothic.

Ooh, valuable internet resource. i am sad is the World's Premier Directory of really bad websites. Really, truly awful 'sites. Lots of fun. [via digitaltrickery.]

I've mentioned internet encyclopedias before; add this to the list. GNUpedia [via slashdot] is a just-started project for a free (non-restrictive license, free to access), distributed (not stored on central server, mirrored) reference source. Check the project announcement for more. It sounds to me like an open directory (eg dmoz) specialising in documents, and pulling in the indexed content. A good idea, but I'm not sure whether it'll fly. The "celebrity" backing and publicity will certainly help.

Monday's fresh Upsideclown is brought to us by Jamie: "As I was rounding off my weekly ablutions in the bath today, I reached for the pumice stone to scrub my soles. It wasn't long before I realised I had mistakenly grasped a small, deceased grey rodent, whose beneficial effects on my verrucas were disappointing to say the least. As I rubbed harder, it began to fragment, suggesting it had met with mortality considerably longer than a few hours previously. Perhaps it was time to change the water".

Unpleasant, yes. Today's clown: Full to the brim.