Friday, July 29, 2005

Guns, Germs, and Me!

I finally picked up a copy of Guns, Germs, and Steel. I've heard good things about it, but I'd never read it. I'm still only partway through, so I may misrepresent him.

For over a decade, my theory on the success or failure of civilization has revolved around population density. His theory pretty much matches mine. He talks about "population" rather than "population density", but I think he agrees that ten thousand people in a hundred square miles will "advance" faster than ten thousand people in ten thousand square miles (which is actually quite a high population density for a hunter-gatherer population).

Both of our theories (which, as I mentioned, appear very similar) revolve around the idea that a higher population density results in more specialization, which drives civilization. For example, hunter-gatherer tribes didn't have politicians, didn't have writing, and didn't have farming. A city-based population will have not only all three of those, but also armies, currency, and law.

Of course, population density is largely created by having MORE FOOD. It also enables us to be more efficient at producing food, which in turn generally causes higher population density, etc, etc.

To me, the important thing is the extra humans. In a tribe, you don't have any extra humans. They're all hunters, gatherers, shamans. Only the occasional disabled is "extra". However, as population density rises, efficiency rises. Wealth is generated. Suddenly, you've got someone like me. I do NOTHING critical to survival. Not a single solitary thing. But I do advance civilization, in my own small way.

To me, the population density is only important because it provides all these extra humans who have to figure out a way to buy all the stuff they need to survive. According to my mostly-unrelated theories, that need to buy is the important part. If it came free, those extra humans are not driven to advance the society and therefore don't really count towards our needs.

"Why is he harping on this?" you hopefully say.

Because extra humans are only as powerful as they are connected to civilization. If an extra human is connected to a million people, he can innovate from their collected history and needs. If that extra human is connected to a BILLION people, suddenly his scope is much wider and the chances he can find a better way to buy his stuff is correspondingly higher.

If you didn't get that, or disagree with it, I probably didn't communicate right. I'm saying: You only have as many opportunities as you can find. If you're connected in fewer ways, there are fewer opportunities.

Take a look. The mightiest historical empires were known for their what? If you answered anything related to "connectivity", you win! Roads! Standardized coin! Shipping lanes! These are the things empires were built from.

Hi! I never would have met you if not for the internet.

Nice to see you. Nice to know we're connected.

Our population density has gone from being people per square mile to people per web visit. The number of extra humans is immense, well-connected, and growing exponentially more effective every year.

Where is the next cradle of civilization? China? India? America? No.

Right here.

New Politicians, New Media, New Methods

Like usual, I've been reading news articles and watching them stew about in my head. However, I have been forcefully subjected to mass media over the past few weeks, which is akin to going from fresh salmon to fish sticks. Nero Wolfe would Not Approve.

One of the things I've noticed is the self-destruction of politicians.

For the past decade or more, we've been ramping up our infoholism. We worship the mind-miners, but the early adopters have turned to head-jackers and head-hackers! That's a silly way of saying: we're getting more information from more sources than ever before.

Many people aren't, of course. They're still reading their one newspaper, or whatever. But the early adoption trend is towards fairly wide (albeit shallow) news sources. That means mass adoptation isn't more than twenty years away, at most.

Here's something you may not know: when a human is given a wide range of sources, they rapidly learn to cut deeply beneath what the source is saying to what the source actually thinks. For example, it's not hard to determine if someone is popular or not, if they are rich or not - because even if both types say they are well-off, there is the stench of desperation around the fakers. You know the stench, because you've seen it before in your wide range of posers.

The wider range of news sources will allow for the same thing - a skill at cutting through the bullshit and determining exactly what the media and government really thinks.

Therefore, politics are going to radically change.

Hillary Clinton hasn't figured this out yet. I don't know whether she actually believes she can become president, but she's certainly whoring out. High-profile whoring, too. Thirty years ago, twenty years ago, even ten years ago, her whoring would have the desired result: it would gain her political favors within the political "industry", favors she could draw on to advance her career. Oh, and also ingratiate her with a "grateful" public.

Now it's not. Now, it's being covered by media sources. People are reading these blurbs, and they are starting to think, "hmmm... she's making a lot of concessions. She's changing her mind - she's whoring out. I guess she's NOT very strong. She can't even convince people to support her without rubbing them the right way."

From there, it quickly advances to, "she's not the woman I thought she was. She doesn't have the strength - politically or morally - that I thought she did."

They may not even think this consciously. But people are wired to admire strength. People are built to follow leaders. And the news of Hillary shows she isn't a leader. She's not leading others - she's following. She's making concessions, she's cooing and cuddling with her fellow politicians. That's a kind of power, but not the kind people automatically respect. If the people don't respect her, the politicians won't respect her, and even her favors will dry up suddenly.

People automatically respect people who get everyone to bend to them - in turn, making it more likely people will bend to them. It's a bad habit which is the reason behind the fact that almost all governments over the course of history were dictatorships and monarchies. It's the reason Hitler came so close to winning, the reason Stalin hung on for so long. It's both an instinctive social tendency to fold to these people AND it's generally a conscious intellectual choice, so as to avoid being lynched.

(Obviously, this also tends to polarize a population: you either hate the bastard or you love the bastard. There's very little room for anything inbetween.)

George W. Bush has done an UNARGUABLY TERRIBLE job of leading the nation. As in: I'd rather be saying "President Lector". Yet many people worship this fool, and many more people accept him, and almost everyone tolerates him.

Bill Clinton had a similar problem. Almost all the non-democrats hated him, because he was all about government bloat. But democrats loved him dearly. Why? For the same reason so many people like W:

They're leaders.

I don't like calling them that. They're both poor speakers, for example. Bush has no particular charisma, listening to Clinton made me want to punch him in the face. But, despite the fact that they were totally incompetant leaders, they were leaders.

They were leaders because they didn't compromise. They didn't back off. They took the wheel, and everyone else had to follow them. They showed pure, unadulterated power, and the nation respected that, even if they couldn't stand the person.

In this environment of connectivity, leadership is more powerful than ever. Every comment which reveals that someone gave in to you enhances your aura of strength. Every bit of coverage reveals the truth of your leadership. If you can combine this with a powerful charisma and speaking skill, you've got it made.

Hillary will not be president. If the democrats are foolish enough to push her as their primary, they will lose and the repubs will be elected again. But it's more than that: the very nature of the game is changing.

Presidents (indeed, anyone who gets solid media coverage) will become more and more dominating, settle less and less. This will resonate throughout the whole world.

I expect these people to appeal primarily to nationalism. I expect relationships between countries to grow tense.

Any nation or group of nations which remain "soft" - like Europe is tending towards - will be economically defunct in this new age. Hard countries, like China, will be the dominant force. Other countries will either stand up and become hard themselves, or they will fold and become submissive.

That is the USA's primary advantage. It always has been. We're lazy. We're stupid. We're hopelessly self-centered.

And we don't negotiate.

And that position is one of infinite strength.

The fact that it will almost certainly lead to some kind of war between us and China by 2050 is entirely besides the point.

Superman and the KKK

Because of an overwhelming surge in interest, I will tell you the story of Superman and the KKK.

According to popular lore, there was a man named Stetson Kennedy. He was a reporter for a short-lived rag called the "PM". This was at the height of the clan, in the forties.

Stetson was a bit of an equal-rights activist, but being white, he had an advantage no black man ever had: he could join the Ku Klux Klan. So he did.

And, over the course of several years, he discovered a lot of very interesting details. Like the fact that the KKK had such a reputation that it didn't really have to do very much to maintain that reputation.

More importantly, he found out all their code words and rituals.

At the time, the Superman radio show was extremely popular. The two decided to combine powers, and with the information Stetson fed them, the Superman writers forged a four-part series of "Superman vs the KKK".

Using real rituals, codewords, and practices (which are shockingly dumb by today's standards) combined with a dismissive contempt for the organization, the Superman radio show turned the nation's children against the KKK.

Diminished in the eyes of everyone - including the members - it didn't take too terribly long for the KKK to dissolve from a terrifyingly huge, well-organized faction into a bunch of backwater hicks saying how them's gen-et-cally sooperior.

Thanks, Superman!

Edit: His web site.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hey! You got relative vision in my transaction costs!

Hey, you got transaction costs in my relative vision! Hmmm... tastes good!

I've been mumbling about both transaction costs and relative vision. To summarize: relative vision is how much time the player has to take effective action before being affected. Transaction costs are how much it 'costs' to take an action, including emotional weights and predictions about failure/success chances.

I've been trying to think of how the two relate, trying to create a kind of unified theory. It's a hobby.

It's clear to me that relative vision IS related to the intangible side of transaction costs. There's the actual cost - "It costs ten energy units to fire this gun" - and then there's the intangible, unreliable elements - "I'm not very likely to hit him", or "I don't like this gun."

The actual cost is real easy to compute. It's not really perceived - or if it is perceived, it's almost always entirely accurate. The difficulty is in the intangible half. Deciding how likely you are to succeed is not as easy as it sounds, if you want your decider to act like a human instead of a statistician.

That's where relative vision comes in. Relative vision is the term relating what you see, the potential for effect, the time until effect, what you can do, and the time it takes you to perform viable actions. When you think about it, this mush is precisely what the intangible elements are: urgency, chance, weight, response urgency...

I think I smell a unified formula. I want one I can apply to a social relationship AND to a space fighting game.

Economies of sca-YAY-YAYL!

One of the things I believe is that most things are organized in the same manner the universe is organized. That is to say, everything within a scale works on the same basic algorithm as everything in every scale, and as you leave the scale, there is an unimaginably huge jump in scale.

For example, there are no moving creatures say, a mile long. Why? Because the materials creatures are made of won't support it. However, those materials are the materials used to create things on the clump of materials we call Earth.

Change the scale: let's talk about the clump of materials we call a galaxy. A galaxy isn't made out of "materials", really. It's made of star systems. Therefore, something which navigates the galaxy (a galactic 'animal') is unlikely to be made out of stuff related by a STRUCTURE, but more likely to be made up out of stuff related by ORBITAL PHYSICS.

You can also move down the scale: stuff made to navigate through materials is on a much smaller scale than animals to navigate a planet. They will be made of the stuff materials are made from, rather than from materials. Hence you have bacteria and viruses, made from molecules related by chemical bonds.

Of course, it stacks. An animal which moves across the Earth is, in fact, material. Therefore, he contains the potential for tiny organized clusters of "life" inside him. Therefore, those contain the potential for eensie-weensie organized clusters of "life", and so on and so on until you go insane. These things, of course, form the same kind of substance the larger creature is made of, in that clusters of cells are materials and clusters of animals/plants could theoretically be a planetary body.

I find this gives me lots of really bizarre ideas for games, stories, etc. Think about it: has anyone EVER written a story about a galaxy populated by starships which are actually STAR ships? As in a tight-knit bunch of celestial bodies orbiting a special sun?

Or going the other direction - what happens if you change the basis for the structure of life? Instead of cells formed by bonds between molecules, how about you suppose some OTHER basis? Like, say, instead of molecules, use chunks of emotion. All those old ideas - plant-monsters, energy beings, ghosts - they can be represented in new and interesting ways, with the various normal features of biological life replicated in a bizarre new fashion - one which holds together.

Of course, you have to build the physics on your own, but hey, life's good when you're building physics.

The interesting part is when you start to apply it to nonphysical things like, oh, economies. Or minds. Or memories.

What are those made of? What kind of creature can they form when glued together in great numbers? What does that mean when you project into the future with the assets you have?

For example: memories. Clusters of memories related by emotional bonds could form a kind of "mindcrete" which makes up a personality segment. What kind of physical interaction do these memories have? What kinds of mindcretes would you need? Replicate a life form's basic organs, but with clusters of memories. What kind of memory relationship forms a heart, pumping thoughts throughout to all the other mindcrete clusters? What kind of memories stacked in what way form lungs, breathing in new ideas?

It makes for a very interesting mind excersize, and produces some exquisitely unusual story ideas. :)


There is an old Asian proverb which, when shortened, goes: "A scorpion was trying to convince a frog to carry him across a river. The frog worried about being stung, but the scorpion pointed out that if he did that, they would both die. Reassured, the frog carried him... but halfway across, the scorpion stung the frog. As they were drowning, the scorpion explained to the astonished frog, 'I am what I am.'"

I recently found a far more amusing final statement: "Because you are a game theorist, but I am not."

A lot of people should be looking at the reams of theories I'm spitting out and thinking, "He takes games way too seriously. Even if he did all that stuff perfectly, it's not like anyone would notice."

The mechanical universe has been facing that kind of commentary for millinea. "Yes, it's nice you figured out what 'PI' is, but who cares?" There's zillions of these tiny, useless, inapplicable laws.

But without the laws of relativity, we would not have a GPS system. Without a clear understanding of the laws of electromagnetics, we would still be using vaccuum tubes. And even those result from a well-understood law. These physical laws allow for the production of a technology which can change the world.

The people of the world have been making psychological and sociological theories since the beginning of time. The problem with those is that they have, without fail, been almost entirely wrong. We look at these theories, and it's like looking at the theory of relativity. Then someone goes and - using just the theory of relativity - calculates how long it will take a satellite to hit the earth. The answer, if he manages to wrest one out of the highly restricted formula, is wholly incorrect.

We can't do people very well. A person can't be seperated from their other conditions. If a scientist wants to see what air pressure does, he stabalizes everything else and introduces variations into air pressure. People can't be treated that way even if we could figure out HOW, because we live in an enlightened society where lives have infinite value so long as a politician is watching.

Back into the depths of time, people have made guesses and done tests. But their resources were very limited. They only had a few people to perform tests on, their equipment was inadequate, and they didn't understand the scientific process.

Now, we have several billion people hooked into the internet, whether directly or indirectly. Every year, our data gets both clearer and wider. We can mine on a scale none had ever imagined before.

Can you imagine trying to discover the earth orbited the sun when your data points consist of the earth, the sun, and a comet that comes around once every 144 years? Well, now our solar system contains a billion planets.

Sure, things are overcomplicated. With a billion planets, it will take a while to figure out all the things acting on these celestial bodies.

But there is, for the first time in human history, enough data points, enough apparati, and the power of scientific approaches to them.

Two hundred years, they'll look back and say, "We would never have figured out the Type B Harmonium without this formula. We would still be scrabbling around in a Type M Capitalist Society. What a waste that would have been!"

Or, I guess, in my case, "We would never have figured out how to addict our population to a Type B Shooter Game without this formula. We'd still be playing such backwards games as Quake."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

News of the Day

I got a bunch of work done on the graphics thing, but given that I'll be busy tonight and tomorrow, I don't think I'm going to have screen shots available for tomorrow or the next day. Damn! Expect 'em on Monday. Family really screws up your timeline.

I don't usually post links, but today is an interesting day.

Here is a link you should read. The sounds involved are very similar to the old-fashioned dissonance-based "horror" sections of old space movies.

Difference being, these are natural sounds.

The one from Saturn is especially creepy.

On the other side of the spectrum, here is a post linking to an essay.

Please tell me I don't write like that. I'm not interested in sounding intelligent: I'm interested in getting my ideas across. I hate it when someone writes an "educated" paper in fifty pages when it should be written in two.

Lastly, because of the lack of pictures, here is a comic I drew a few months ago. I'm not very fond of it - hence, me not putting it up when I drew it - but I need to post SOMETHING tangible. It was inspired by all those pictures of people camping out and waiting for the new Star Wars movie.

Now, I'm gonna be real busy starting at noon, so you may not hear much from me. ("Thank god! I was having enough trouble keeping up with this crap!" you say...)

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Future of Content (Boring Version)

Some of you are familiar with the work I actually get paid for. For those of you who aren't: I make database-driven web pages.

My software is similar to Ruby on Rails in regards to this. Mine has a lot more automation than Ruby on Rails does, but theirs has more features - after all, it's far more mature. Mine also requires zero coding - everything is done in a GUI interface that's fully compatible with all tested browsers to date.

I've gotten a lot done, really. The suite is functional now, although not polished and missing a few capabilities.

But I'm beginning to think it might be easier just to switch to Ruby on Rails. I mean, it's a pretty slick little package. Once I learn it, I might be able to create a fully graphical interface variant.

But - DAMN! - I really hate giving up. I mean, my software works. It's pretty slick. Version six - the version I'm currently programming - is better than Rails for most development purposes. But it's still got a lot of devving left to do, and afterwards I'll want to make version seven, using more Java for drag-n-drop goodness...

I'm gonna try Rails. So ver 6 is temporarily on hold, until I've dissected Rails. Hopefully, Rails will kick patookis, and I can drop my own software and enhance Rails to the level I want.

Edit: If I can get it to freaking INSTALL. Oh, come on, this is pathetic!

Edit 2: I got it to install. Of course, I can't get the Windows version to work, and my Linux machine is pure command line, so we'll see how this works out...

Paths to Terrorism?

(This is based largely upon reading. I don't think I've ever met a terrorist.)

Some of you might be surprised, but terrorists are not usually mentally unbalanced. In fact, they tend to be well-educated and relatively normal people. That's why they are so hard to find.

It starts with someone who says, "The way it's done doesn't make sense. It should be done this way." Perhaps you've said that? I know I have. Anyone who gets an education probably has said that at some point.

Anyone who says that is a potential terrorist.

Give me a few thousand dollars and the power to break inertia, and I will change the world forever - for the better. There's no secrets involved. I could just back existing products, products that people don't buy but are better than the ones people do buy. That's the key, you see: not money, not genius, but inertia. Inertia is the reason for every stupid, short-sighted decision or lack of decision. A fear of change, a level of comfort with the way things are, confusion as to which path is better.

If you've ever said "they should do it this way," that's always been followed by, "but they won't." Always. Because they won't. They never do.

The next step is to convince that person that a certain action will make people listen to them. For example, "Get a livejournal, people will listen to you!" or "Write a song about it, and people will listen to you!"

Or, more sinister, "Kill people, and people will listen to you."

Obviously, that last leap is not a common leap to make. But it can be made in certain circumstances.

The pattern is relatively clear. It happens when someone (A) feels they know how the world could be improved and (B) can't improve their world and (C) finds no other solace.

For isolated terrorists - people like the Unabomber, people like the children who shoot guns in schools - the problem is primarily in a lack of solace. They have nothing to ground them in a comfortable reality. They are filled with disgust at the way things work and despair at their ability to change those workings. Without anything to take that edge off, they resort to methods of communication which will "insure they are heard."

In lesser situations, this might be dressing in gothy clothes. Or posting bad poetry to a livejournal. I'm not saying these sorts of people are terrorist risks. These sorts of people are probably NOT terrorist risks, because their method is interactive. It actually does communicate, if poorly. Therefore, they are getting feedback, and changing their world. That means they are unlikely to become terrorists.

No, the isolated terrorists seem to largely be the result of NOT finding an interactive method of communication. Unable to communicate for whatever reason - be it social, physical, or mental - they resort to extreme methods. This can be shooting, it can be suicide, it can merely be attempted suicide or being a total bastard.

The problem is that they see a better world - often, simply the one everyone else is living in - and can't reach it.

These scattered events might be able to be controlled by controlling the environment. But I'm here to talk about terrorist GROUPS.

Most religions provide a level of solace to their worshippers, distracting them from the evil idiocy of the rest of the world. However, some sub-religions fan the fires.

These groups highlight an idealistic view of the world, highlight the fact that nobody will move towards it on their own, and then push. And push. And push. The people involved could be making a solid living. They could have families. They could easily have a level of solace. Most do, because people who have no solace generally are so anti-social that they never get the option to join a group of people. But even solace isn't enough - the vision of this world-to-be outstrips it. Think of it as scales: your solace weighs a certain amount. If they put more than that amount on the other side, you tip.

The only remaining step is to provide a means of dealing with the situation.

Some of these sub-religions offer solace - give them your money, live in their confines, and seperate yourself from the world.

Some of these sub-religions offer to let you change the world. Often, though violence.

And a terrorist organization is born.

Does it have to be religious? No, but people will categorize it as religious even if it is not. The unbelievable crimes committed during WWII were not caused by a religion, per se, but by a vision of a world to be acheived. A vision brought on by Hitler and his team.

In theory, anything could be brought to this level. Even Linux evangelists, even Trekkies. The difficulty is getting a chain reaction going where each act of violence causes further strength in your position.

This can only happen in a few situations. It can't happen in America as it is. It happened in the America of the past: the KKK was a terrorist organization. They became SO popular that they didn't actually have to do much terrorizing. Just existing was enough. Superman eventually brought them to their knees - no joke, and a very interesting story - but until then, they were where every bigotted male went.

But now, we have no generally accepted enemy within striking distance.

That's not true of many countries. When you have groups who hate each other, violence against each other is very popular. An act of violence will get recruits.

The enemy used to be other natives, other religions. Now it's the interfering soldiers from the west.

How can you break this cycle?

Exterminating them might work. You'd have to act pretty fast, killing most of them within a few weeks, so that they couldn't springboard off your attacks into a new popularity. That's not, however, a generally acceptable method. Moreover, I'm not at all sure it's possible.

Improving their world might work, but it would take quite a long time due to its indirect applicability to their view of the world. The higher level of solace is good, because it diminishes their number of willing recruits.

Diminishing their worldview would probably work: a massive but relatively subtle disinformation campaign which mocks their vision of the future. They'll expend a lot of energy trying to kill you, but once that's done, they'll be no more recruits. However, this is very much a religion-killer action, so it would draw a lot of bad press.

Improving their ability to change the world would just make them worse. Ask North Korea. Diminishing that same ability would also make them worse, because violence would then become their only option.

I think I would choose the disinformation campaign. Seed a derision for terrorism and, if possible, the religion which spawned it. There will be violence as they lash out at you, but so long as you do not falter and persist in your seeding, you should be able to turn public opinion around in a matter of a decade, perhaps.

Well, thanks for reading. It's all just derived from books. I claim no real experience in the matter.

Monday, July 25, 2005

More Mathy Bits 2

(This post contains only musings on my graphical exploits.)

One of the core issues with 2D animation is, of course, the need to animate everything. Some things can be animated in pieces, then recombined into a whole. Some things can be done with rotation and motion. But there are limits: turning is nearly impossible, which is not good, because everyone turns all the time, and it looks shabby if you don't.

The problem with turning is that any given piece needs to be shown from any given angle. There are a couple ways you can do this, but all of them either break down at high resolution or have jerky 'jumps' to new orientations.

I'm trying to get around that. One of the things I assumed during my early musings was that I needed a sprite - a "skin" that I carve up and show. I don't.

The sprite would be used for a lot of things. It can be used to put patterns on things - like the lines of the back, or a pattern on a shirt. But in order to support the required warping these would have to be able to perform, I need to carve them into a tiled grid of high resolution, then wrap the tiles around an imaginary sphere.

Early tests showed that this could be done with things that are spherical. However, I'm having a lot of trouble with things that aren't based on spheres - like clothes. Although I worked out some pretty slick collision detection algorithms for them, I can't actually DRAW them.

I thought, "Why am I doing this? It's ten times harder than I need, but the only added feature it supports is textures. And I can hack suitable textures into a simpler version!"

So, once again my plan revolves around primitive sprites. I'm thinking about a "U" shape, a kind of full-bodied crescent. Linking many shapes together, I'll be able to create straight lines or curves of any variety. I'll support no sprites for the moment, but I'm hopeful about this working and getting to add sprites in the future. Faces will be illegible without sprites, so I'll need them sooner or later, unless I'm going to make some REALLY strange games.

Hmm... actually, that has some appeal...

Regardless, that's my current plan. Collision is fun and easy: circular systems (technically, quasi-spheres) detect collision for all systems. If something is a full circle, it's easy. Otherwise, I calculate based on collision location whether it is an actual collision or not. For example, the tilted oval draping of a long piece of cloth: that's the cloth adhering to a certain part of a collision oval. If something collides with that oval, it doesn't count as a collision until it impacts along the part of the perimiter which is "clothed". At that point, collision is worked out based on relatively simple physics. The cloth's collision oval distorts into a slightly different shape as it is forced to support the weight of the object colliding with it.

Straight lines are no difficulty: instead of a circular collision system, use a square. It's simply a matter of choosing a different collision primitive. The collision primitives have mount points which allow for easy distribution of primitive shapes into lines and such. The difficulty I forsee is "filling in" the part of the material which is not the edge. We'll see how that works.

I forsee some small problems trying to create tubular shapes - or any other shape which is one shape on one 2D axis and another shape on a different 2D axis. However, I can outlaw those. If you want a box, it has to be a box. A spherical shape has to be made entirely out of ovals.

Right now, you're hopefully thinking, "How could this possibly work on the fly?"

The answer is that solid objects - like bodies and chairs - have a set of "solid" collision systems. Things like cloth have "ephemeral" collision systems, which essentially clone the solids as far as their physics allow, then draw automatic collision systems to connect their covered solids together. Lastly, they draw automatic collision systems that descend from the 'ends' as necessary, hanging free (or flapping, whatever).

Keeping track of the Z axis is going to be a bit of a pain, but I have... an idea!

We'll see.

Outlines are going to be a pain, not in that they will actually be difficult, but in that they will double the number of primitive shapes needed to represent a shape. I'll leave them out at first, but I can add them as needed.

I hope to try this out and put some screenshots up in the relatively near future.

Social Play: Purely Childish View

(This is not a tight essay. It's flabby. You don't need to read it.)

Roll the Bones has been talking about a book I cannot seem to find. It looks very boring, but the blogger is chugging through it and dissecting it. Lotsa good stuff. You can find a recent post here.

Social play is on the forefront of many designer's minds, and it's certainly something I could stand to know more about. As the world becomes more connected, social play is probably the most effective play model we have to use.

Right now, what we do with social play in our best-selling games (like, say, World of Warcraft) is assign roles by giving specific people specific abilities. Their interactions with the world and each other determine what they can attempt to do and what kind of people are likely to choose which kind of roles.

The problem is a lack of change. I'm a huge fan of change: without a continually evolving set of patterns, a game is going to be boring.

Some games address this by allowing "out of game" socialization. For example, making a tribe would quickly produce tribe politics. However, this is painfully removed from the game. Although it is possible to tie them back together - a tribe charges a 10% tithe but also sells weapons to members at cost, for example - this is going out of their way to work inside the bounds of a game which is built to resist this kind of clumping. (It breaks the game dynamics, so developers try to limit the actual use of large teams of people.)

Some games address this by having no set paths. These games, like The Sims Online and Second Life, allow you to be whoever you want to be. They do have in-game progression, almost universally in the form of cold, hard cash, but even someone who is broke can be anyone, from the most stunning model to the most brilliant computer hacker. In a kind of prop-supported freeform environment, they manufacture their relationships on the fly.

This comes with the innate problem of boredom. You'll tend to stagnate in this kind of environment, and it's relatively rare for a player to be the kind of person who continually searches for new relationships. Plus, in these environments you can't easily change 'personas' while retaining the other player's investments in you.

Let's compare this to how kids play. I'm speaking from experience, watching my young cousins (<10) play with each other. I've watched them play with each other for about three years now, and it has slowly evolved.

They play an amorphous, ever-changing freeform "game", frequently bounded by rules such as "You can't see me! I'm invisible!" and "Oh, I have a Pokeball!" Their obsessions have changed - Pokemon is thankfully fading from their view for a more generic set of fantasies - but the rules remain pretty much the same.

Side note: whoever made Pokeman, you need to DIE. I have never seen any other cartoon which causes kids to scream the same word OVER AND OVER AND OVER. So, thank you. Let me pipe the sound of a million kids eight and under repeatedly screaming "Pikachu!" as loud as they can while throwing stuff at each other.

Okay, got that out of my system. Back to children at play.

The children will take up roles eagerly. In most of the situations I've seen, there is a dominant child and one or more submissive children. The dominant child is the one who determines the setting ("Okay, we're in a secret lab..." (no kidding, they're that kind of kids...)) and the maximum bounds ("You can't be Pikachu!", usually in response to another child's role choice). The dominant child also tends to solve conflict by giving himself or herself more powers or by suddenly changing roles. The submissive kids tend to work within their roles to solve or present conflicts. This is almost certainly because whenever the submissive kid tries to alter his role to give himself a sizeable advantage, the dominant child shouts him or her down. Wow, the dominant child is a jerk!

I'm sure this varies from situation to situation. I can imagine situations where two dominant children play together, but unless some kind of "trading victories" thing was in place, I think it would mostly cause fights. The older child seems to be dominant in all the play I've seen (under the age of ten).

The roles children assume are directly influenced by the roles they perceive. The powers the played roles have are pretty much restricted to the powers the original roles have. Although there is often some alterations for playability, this seems mostly true, especially at younger ages. For example, if they're playing Pokemon, they'll assume the role of a given character or animal and restrict their capabilities to those which the cartoon role might actually perform.

As the children get older, they gain an ability to use scenarios rather than direct roles. For example, whereas before they might play specific Pokemon, now they might play games in which they pretend to be new Pokemon, or several characters combined. Similarly, they might invent a world which is "like" something, then create roles for themselves within that world. The world is often extremely loose, like "I'm a cop, you're a robber."

The problem is, as people get over the age of ten, they all want to be the dominant one. Video games are extremely popular because they let everyone who plays be a dominant player. Children, continually exposed to an older sibling who establishes dominance, will tend to be submissive without much struggle... but once they reach a certain age, they start to buck this submission.

Perhaps it's just an American trait - I have no way of knowing - but the end result is that the majority of the First-Language-English world wishes it was the dominant player.

Is there any way to set up a game so that this can take place? Sure! Games already do it. You are good at a particular thing. You can be dominant there. By stabalizing the game world, the game keeps particularly talented or ornery players from "taking over" and changing the rules as the dominant child does.

But that doesn't seem to really be the best way to do it. There is a kind of immobility in that kind of situation which goes directly against many of our play instincts. Play involves change, and there's no change there.

Also, there is a sizeable target audience which does not seem to be bucking for the top: the SecondLife audience is largely filled with dominant players, but many of them are perfectly happy to simply spend money, have a good time, and explore. This is, in itself, a kind of dominance - like a brewer vs a warrior, they have very different powers but are dominant in their own field.

By restricting the types of interactions to mostly tangental meetings, you can let both people remain dominant. A warrior meets a brewer. The brewer isn't going to want to be a better warrior than the warrior, and the warrior is fine not being a better brewer than the brewer. When two warriors meet, things can get complex. In a statistical game world, one will obviously be better. In a less statistical world, which is better will be a much fuzzier choice.

Is that bad? Well, it can lead to conflict, especially if they are actually competing. In many cases, who is the best warrior has nothing to do with stats, but who can harvest experience points and loot best.

These complexities aside, it isn't really BAD. It adds tension to the game. If you want tension, you can add this kind of challenge. If you don't want tension, back off.

But... the universe is flat in this kind of situation. "I'm the warrior of the team!" is nice, but after a while, it gets kind of stuffy. You want to expand.

You don't want better fuggin' stats, you want a better ROLE. You want to go from free-range warrior to, say, a knight serving a king. Then up the rank until you are the head knight. Get a land grant. Become an earl. Etc, etc.

Each step is a proof of power and a change in role. Each also comes with a requisite change in play style, and if that play style interacts poorly, it could easily cause quite an upsetting lack of balance.

Can a game be created which has all the good elements - all the change, all the growth, all the dominance - without any of the bad elements - stagnation, irritation, and excessive conflict?

Hm. I think so, but I'd love to hear from everyone else before I post any ideas.

Ups and Downs

This post is an interesting thing on many levels. Aside from the mind-boggling number of responses (fifty and counting), the first paragraph is a critical thing for game designers, movie writers, and foolish artists to remember:

"Toys are fun. The other side of that colorful plastic sword is when they break. Or when Santa, or the powers that be, just drop the ball and F you in your little A in the process." -Steven of The Sneeze

I think everyone has experienced this first hand, and it's always a bit strange when someone doesn't react to losing a toy. The total lack of personal investment is either creepy or disappointing, depending on the situation.

But this isn't a standard "there is no light without shadow" tidbit (although that, of course, is well worth thinking of). This is an "investment is measured by addiction" tidbit.

Your goal, in your entertainment product, is not to entertain. No. It's to fascinate. There's a subtle difference. Nobody I want to know was entertained by Schindler's List, but it was still a very good movie. Why? Because it's fascinating. You watch it with a kind of dark sense of wonder, a kind of awe at the things people can do while still looking lucid.

Once you grok this, you can get on with yourself. You're not here to make everything nicey-nice. You're not here to provide humor, or cool space fights. Those are tools. That's like saying a computer is Microsoft Word.

You're here to fascinate. If that means darkness, it means darkness. If it means humor, it means humor. If it means cool fight scenes, put them in. If it means a character needs to die, then by all means, kill them. You need to get the audience totally involved. Only then will their investment be complete. Every further step you take it will be further investment. The most glorious toys are the ones lying in fragments in your old toy box.

People remember FFVII because Aerith died. Otherwise, it wouldn't have the same kind of following. They thought she would come back. She didn't. It was a great move. It created a kind of horrified fascination with the game. "What is this? This isn't how games go! What's going on?"

It's the same with Silence of the Lambs. It was a fascinating dip into the darkness of abnormal psyches. It was not about cool fight scenes, although there was one.

Your need, when you want to entertain, is to keep the audience fascinated.

Patterns can be built and challenged and twisted on every level, whether gameplay or character interactions. But the key is: don't be afraid to commit. Undercommitting is a crime. It shows a weakness, a lack of authority, a lack of vision. It shows you're afraid of the audience. It shows that you have nothing to show them.

Overcommitment can be bad, it can be irritating... but it will always be fascinating. And even irritating media can still keep an audience, if it is fascinating. Undercommitting is in no way fascinating. It's predictable, it's washed out, it's weak.

This means you should take your patterns and change them permanently, fundamentally. Characters can die. It is not against the rules. Villains can win. It's not against the rules. You're allowed to put in true reversals, horrible jokes, nudity, and true madness. It's not against the rules. Don't be afraid to push your patterns too far.

Because "too far" is always worth watching.


Qualifier: a lot of beginners take patterns "too far", but they take them "too far" in an extremely boring way. You still have to follow the basic rules: patterns are built to interact with other patterns. If there are no meaningful interactions to make because you've placed your pattern too high above the rest, then there is no meaningful reason to watch the media.

Of course, you don't have to have the interacting patterns inside the media. They could be patterns in the audience's head. That's a powerful technique, but one to be covered at another time.


Qualifier the Second: You don't need to (and probably shouldn't) always "see-saw" your patterns. "There is no light without shadow" is a good thing to remember, but it's largely to set up contrast and define a pattern's power level and methods of interaction. Not everything has to be "light-dark-light-dark". Your hero does not need to have a failure for every success, or a success for every failure.

All you need to do is offer consistently unique and fascinating pattern interactions.

In terms of Pattern Adaptation Control, the most efficient method of offering new and unique interactions is to regularly make patterns shift and change. This gives you a "new" pattern to use without losing the emotional investment the audience has in the old pattern while SIMULTANEOUSLY getting the player to invest in the "pattern of changes in this pattern" pattern.

It's extremely efficient.


Qualifier the Third: Damn, this is a lot of qualifiers.

If your audience loves someone, and you screw them, there will be a giant backlash. The key is to keep that backlash in the magic circle. You want zero negative emotions aimed at you, the author. Positive emotions are okay to leak everywhere, but negative emotions need to be carefully coralled into leak-proof containers.

The 'walls' of these containers are made out of a handy receptical, usually a "villain". However, anger still spills out of the top. Your villain has to be "big" enough to hold all the anger and hate. You have to stretch him beforehand so he can take it without overflowing and spilling on you. If you're killing a popular character, the villain had better be a known badass.

It's also often a good idea to put a "funnel" on to prevent any splashing during the actual event. The most common kind of funnel is an in-game reference. Aerith dies, and all the characters go, "No! Aerith! I hate you, Seph! I'll kill you!" By showing other characters feeling the same thing the player is feeling, you can lead players to put their emotions in the same container as the characters do through basic sympathy and resonance.

You can also milk this later. You've established a conduit of hate, and by tugging on it at any point, you can add some more hate to your villain, who is by now plenty stretchy enough to handle the additional ire. This can also enhance your good guy, which is another method that will have to be covered some other time.

This methodology can (and should) also be used for good emotions.

It's also a chapter on its own - this is just a quick overview. :)

Weekend Report

I didn't get anything done, sorry. My family was in town. They kidnapped me. They tried to break my strength with exposure to the sun. They tried to knock me off balance by dragging me through the water. They force-fed me salmon and made me play my favorite games. It was horrible.

After two endless days of boating and barbequeing, I managed to escape. I am slowly recovering, but, alas, the weekend was a complete loss.

So, uh, expect early screenies on THURSDAY.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Terror and Chaos: Growth Spurts Suck

(This is long.)

Hmmm, my posts seem to be uncomfortably close to reality when it comes to London. To take the sting out, I will now predict that London will become the center of the New Renaissance! Go London!

I did wonder about the timing: Two weeks is probably the right amount of waiting. My thought was that they would do it within a week, so that security wouldn't be settled down.

I forgot: there is no such thing as security.

At the turn of the 20th century, technology had a spat of breakthroughs.

Two decades later, the whole world broke out into war after war. This continued for forty years. Yes, a simplification.

If you've read up on the causes of World War I, it becomes clear that they are pretty lame. It really comes down to: everybody was feeling their oats and itching for a fight.


Because they were all feeling the shift in power. The radio, the telephone, commonly available electricity, the motorcar, the aeroplane. Within twenty years, everyone felt it, this new type of power, these unparalleled new means of travel and communication.

There's no doubt in my mind that a sudden increase in technological might causes a surge in nationalism and orneryness. Look at Russia. Look at Germany. Look at Japan. In many cases, the surge in technology follows a surge in nationalism... but then it continues to push nationism.

This may be related to wars, but the world was certainly not rife with war before the technological innovations of the late 19th century... and it isn't rife with war now, despite the massive technological innovations going on. I think wars simply allow societies to assimilate new technologies faster, not necessarily CAUSING new technologies faster.

At any rate, let's quickly review. Massive technology boost caused a huge shift in the infrastructure of the world. After about twenty years of this, massive wars broke out.

Today: our computer infrastructure has been changing rapidly for fifteen years.

The whole planet seems to be a pepper-pot of insane nationalism. North Korea says that it will only give up nuclear weapons if the USA takes it off its "you're a dick" list. China is forging a miniature universe of government-regulated Blade-Runner-esque technological infrastructure. France is killing ten million South Africans because they don't want "evil food" to feed the starving. The Middle East is... okay, bad example. They're pretty much the same as always. But they are extending their grip. America is in the hands of a religious dictatorship - not one led by a man, but one led by a force of combined nationalism and superstition. India is in the midst of a potential nuclear cold war with Pakistan.

Sounds bad. Is it worse than it was before?

During the cold war, there were two major players. Now, every country has the capability to radically alter life on earth via unconventional weapons. The situation is radically less stable: instead of two big dudes flexing at each other, there are two hundred little dudes with guns flexing at each other.

Perhaps the reason is the fall of Russia? Maybe, but Russia fell due to technology. The cost of it, the rewards of it, and the political methods which support it.

There was no defense against the World Wars. Countries COULD NOT DEFEND THEMSELVES. London was bombed regularly, even though Britain has a significant military force. It could not defend itself with that force. It did not know how. We learn to attack before we figure out how to defend.

Time passed. We built up worldwide defensive infrastructures. These largely replaced the idea of standing armies. Japan hasn't had a meaningful standing army since WWII, but has never suffered invasion. That's because of these defensive infrastructures: a system of economic and political relationships.

Like armies are largely ineffective against this infrastructure, this infrastructure is largely ineffective against the new generation of attacks.

We have learned how to attack. This attack is not what you think. Terrorists are not the new infrastructure. Terrorists are merely a weapon, like a gun or a trade embargo. A weapon requires an infrastructure behind it, to make it work. In this new era, that infrastructure is an attention matrix.

An attention matrix is a self-perpetuating factory of attention. It is people who get together to talk about something, which in turn causes more people to get together to talk about the same thing. It acts by convincing people of what is "right" by sheer force of peer pressure. Essentially, an attention matrix is a factory of self-perpetuating peer pressure.

These existed before, of course. Every high school has them. Every nation had them. But now, they extend the reach of this pressure to other cities, other nations. Anyone who is susceptable can be contacted and pressured, regardless as to where they are.

Let's look at an example: the communism witch hunt. That's pretty much an attention matrix. The whole nation was talking about it, and the situation changed almost daily. The fact that the fastest channels of communication were driven to carry it allowed it to become one. But this only happened because the force of the entire government and all the media moguls was behind it. It couldn't have happened with, say, iTunes, because the media wouldn't have continually spouted on about it.

Today everyone has access to that level of communication. Attention matrixes form up all the time. Some dissolve, some grow stronger. These self-driving media fixations, like the war on video games, like Harry Potter... like terrorism.

Terrorism requires constant attention to survive. Without daily reassurance that your wigged-out extremist view is normal, you'll likely come to realize that it ISN'T. In the good old days, this need meant that everyone was stuck local. You couldn't give someone in France daily attention: they were simply too far away for meaningful interaction.

Now, it takes less than a day to get across the entire planet. Moreover, tight-knit communications allow cells to support each other, although I doubt they're very organized. Most importantly: the response from a nation a thousand miles away is felt immediately. Peer pressure relies on that response, and now that it can be gained from someone far away, someone far away can become a target.

The attention matrix of terrorism grows daily.

How can you defeat it?

Well, if history is any lesson, we need to develop a counter-infrastructure. Something which recognizes the attention matrixes and works to moderate them, keep them in check.

But, on the other hand, if history is any lesson, we have less than ten years before the next big breakthough. They've been coming faster and faster and faster.

Hmmm. Well, this is all half-assed theory. Thanks for reading it.

Seeing the Doctor, Receiving the Global Frequency

Last night, I watched Global Frequency and the first two episodes of the new Doctor Who. I recommend all three, in short, although I'm going to go into irritating detail. Run!

Global Frequency was good. Parts of it were very good. It had good (if over-the-top) writing, good sets and lighting, and, on the whole, decent acting. The camera work in Miranda Zero's fights was imported from a Steven Seagal movie, which is to say, it blew. But the rest of the time, it was pretty good.

I'm not fond of their casting for Kate. She's an antisocial super-genius. Obviously, because died-blond wanna-be models are exactly what you think of when you think "super genius". I think they must have thought to themselves, "literally everyone else is dark haired. We need a blond for this role." I'm not sure why they didn't get a real blond, if that was the case. Still, despite her egregious miscast, she held up pretty well.

The thing which dragged it down from "really awesome" to only "really cool" was the plot hole which can be best summarized as "go soak your head."

Still,w hen I finished watching it, I felt good. I always feel good after seeing a good bit of science fiction. So I rolled into Doctor Who.

Frankly, Doctor Who blew me away. It was a ton of fun. The first episode was so-so, the second episode was as good as the best episodes of any series you care to mention. Better than Global Frequency.

Doctor who has a unique dynamic available. Because it isn't a team of people running around episode after episode, that means they can introduce characters and have them actually change, grow, and die as needed. It's a fine line to walk before the audience simply dismisses the 'transient' characters - a fine line which can be dealt with by making characters span multiple episodes or by making them highly charismatic.

The first three minutes of the first episode of Doctor Who are worth studying. In that three minutes, we establish and partially develop a group of characters, a setting, and an emotional framework. We establish "normal". It's done very well!

This kind of intro isn't suitable for the pilot episode of an unknown series: it's a little on the slow side, so you'll lose some audience. However, anyone who is likely to watch the Doctor is highly unlikely to give up in less than three minutes, so it was a good choice for them.

The rest of the episode was a bit TOO classic, with silly enemies and bad action.

Episode two, however, was fantastic. They're not afraid to hit hard - laughter, anger, and sorrow were all packed into it. No stupid fake-outs, either. It was really good TV writing, although the dialogue was weak in spots. I imagine that with commercials it would have lost a lot of its punch.

Anyone who is interested in animation should watch the episode just for the spider robots. They are often animated extremely well, with a sense of personality and intertia. They skitter and slip, they emote, they move realistically.

Aside from that, the set design really stands out. The aliens are also a lot of fun, just the right combination of cool and cheezy. The special effects are top-notch - easily Farscape level - and the acting was quite good. Even the last human acted extremely well, and being a face stenciled onto a stretched piece of skin, that's really something.

The actors are well cast in the way that only Britain knows how to do. The main actors have a powerful but extremely accessable charisma. This extends to the primary secondary actors as well, even if they are dressed as trees. The Tardis controls are cheerfully anachronistic and silly.

I love the new Doctor Who! At least, so far.

Of course, it was cheesy scifi - if you're not into cheesy scifi, you won't like it.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

More Mathy Bits

The 2D engine I'm building is going through very early feasibility testing. There's a few things about it that are becoming clear.

What I am essentially doing is defining a formula shape. If I bend inwards on the X axis at, say, Y=0 (the middle), then that inward bend wraps all the way around. Unlike a model, where a variety of points can be specified, I'm specifying three perimeters (actually, two perimeters, and synthesizing the third) and using them to build all the points automatically.

This should be good enough. It has a few drawbacks, like the fact that the face will have to be very carefully sculpted from limited-span shapes. IE the forehead would be from, say, Y = 0 to max. The nose would be another isolated section, as would the chin. This shouldn't be too bad: a simple analysis of the human body shows that most of it is build of cylindrical shapes which have no weird protrubances that aren't, in faact, new cylindrical shapes.

I'm running into a scripting wall - I simply don't knwo enough about TorqueScript, and all the tutorials are behind the Torque wall, which I can't get through since I own Torque 2D rather than Torque.

Still, I can get around that. It might be a bit cludgy, but... I can get around it.

Expect early screenies on Monday!

Endless Fire - A Shmup!

Here is a link to a game called "Endless Fire". As far as I can tell, they use the same software package as rRootage, minus the horrifying memory bleed.

This version is a little more classically inclined than rRootage, with waves of ships followed by bosses followed by waves of ships. It has a couple of problems. First and foremost, I have no clue what their collision detection or damage scheme is. I lived through things that passed right through me, and died to things which barely brushed me.

But the biggest problem is that it's a flabby game.

A long time ago, I said that books have an advantage over movies: books can be flabby. Movies are intended for one sitting, and have to keep someone riveted for the whole length of the movie. Books contain a lot of extraneous stuff - information and experiences not central to the story - because they have a lot of time in which to explore their world.

Games have the same pattern. Some games are like movies: intended to be played in one sitting. Others are like books, and can take weeks or months to finish.

Endless Fire is the first kind. It doesn't have enough time to dawdle. It has to slam on the core experience and not let up. It's a fifteen minute game. It doesn't even have time to let the user BREATH.

So, why do they have FOUR FIRE BUTTONS?

In all honesty, I always hated the 'special/shield/bomb' key in these games. I rarely need it, so when I do, I've totally forgotten about it. That's two buttons: fire and special. This game has fire 1, fire 2, special 1, and special 2. That might be suitable in a game which has a long legacy of that control scheme - like fighting games with six buttons (which I also dislike) - but TWO is the classical number, three in some exceptionally complex games. The changes in fire mode come from live choices on the game map, not from having a trillion choices to choose from at any given moment.

Moreover, they adulterate their game with a bizarrely complex scoring mechanism, where you have to shoot enemies with one fire mode to build up a multiplier, then shoot them with another fire mode to actually get points.

But, on the plus side, it is a very kinetic game. It looks and feels good. They could really have thought a bit more about balance and adaptive (or at least consistent) difficulty. Some of the shots - such as the seeking missile - are extremely difficult to deal with when there is a swarm of linear patterns flying about. Others, such as the high-speed hose-spray, are just nearly impossible to see, let alone fit between the two-pixel gap between bullets. Still, these aren't until levels 40+, so that's some pretty solid play until then.

I highly recommend trying it out. It's free, after all.

Star Trekked

I don't qualify as a Star Trek geek. When I was young, I certainly was. I loved Star Trek and Star Trek, the Next Generation. I rather grew out of them by the end of high school, but in my heart, I still have a special fondness for starships and idealism.

Out of all of the characters - Kirk, Picard, Bones, Troy, Sulu, Geordi, Data... well, in all honesty, Scotty never really stood out.

Until he continued. Until he showed up again, and again, each time with fearless good cheer and a convincing imitation of a Scottish joy of life. As I grew older and more familiar with all the various actors, he suddenly stood out. He was the one that wasn't a self-centered prick, who was unfailingly proud of his Trekkiness.

I felt real sadness when he retired from the con-going scene, even though I've never been to a con which had him, or even seen him in person. And today, I'm sad he died.

Even if you are not a trekkie, remember that one beloved by nearly all geeks died.

It feels like the end of an era.

Blog on Blogging

It's said that people blog on blogging when they can't think of anything else to blog about. This is not one of those, because I have a million things I want to post. This is the inverse problem: I'm blogging about blogging because blogging in truth would kill what few readers I've garnered.

This blog is about Pattern Management: Pattern Adaptation Control. Perhaps you remember my long-ago posts on the subject. I will now apply them to reality.

Pattern adaptation is part of every presentation. An audience watches the show because they want to understand, to assemble, to see how things work and interact. You can call it "learning", if you want. I'll call it pattern adaptation, because "learning" would theoretically include things like memorizing acronyms and other stuff very few people actually enjoy.

This is true whether the audience is playing a game, watching a movie, reading a blog, or listening to a presentation.

Including, for example, this blog.

A lot of blogs are really boring. Just painfully dull. Why is this?

Some could say it's because of the subjects they cover. But I've seen interesting blogs on blue-collar jobs and boring blogs on space and technology. And, of course, visa-versa. It's obviously not the subject, although I'm sure subject has an effect.

Is it the writing style? It's true there is a minimum level of coherence you need to stick to. if u rite lik this, im not gonna read u. Ever.

But it's not really the level of the writing. I've seen well-written blogs which are boring, and moderately written blogs which were tremendously interesting. Again, quality of writing is a factor, but not the primary one.

No, the biggest factor is the PATTERN you're revealing. It's a delicate balance, but the blogs which I find most interesting keep a clear focus: every post expands a pattern, whether by building up their own or by interacting with other patterns.

Example: Game Girl Advance (whose name is wholly misleading, given I've only seen one post out of twenty that's posted by a girl) is a very good blog. Every post is commentary about some outside subject. Your familiarity with GGA's pattern resolves the external pattern into something resembling clarity.

Example: Bad Astronomy Blog is another excellent blog. Like GGA, each post relates to some external subject. His very clear position and sharp focus on astonomy makes the resolution that much cleaner: the patterns he discusses are set into sharp contrast at high grain.

Bad Examples: Adblog, Newsblog, and Personal blog. Each of these is bad for the same reason, although expressed in different ways.

All three of them do not clarify patterns with every post. They do no pattern management. There is no way that the audience can adapt, because there is no adapting to be done. In the adblog, it's just meaningless chatter. In the newsblog, useful information is provided, but there's no resolution. No interaction. It's just news.

The personal blog is similar. Some personal blogs are interesting - like the Accordian Guy. But not the one listed above. Why? What's the difference?

One is focused inward, one is focused outward. The self-centered blog can only enhance one pattern: the writer. I don't care how incredibly interesting you think you are, you're limited. Once you've explained your pattern, there's nothing left. Continued reading would be worthless. Worse, I probably already know your pattern, so two paragraphs in, I'll have already dismissed you.

The exocentric blog focuses on events and situations outside of yourself. They may be events you were involved in, but your focus is on exploring the patterns inherent in those events, not your own pattern. There is no limit to this: the world is a big place with infinite recombinations. Even after we get a clear impression about who you are, you're still helping us explore other patterns. You keep our interest.

That means I shouldn't explain to you that I slammed a handcart into the back of my left foot, and now have a bruise the size of an egg crammed into my shoe. Because all that does is highlight my whiny-bitch personality, and the patterns involved are so boring and mundane that no audience will remain interested.

I could use the bruise as a springboard into something else, I suppose, but I would think people might still think it was a low-class feint. It's probably not a very good idea to start off with something boring: you should start with something interesting.

Now, I'm not saying I'll never discuss myself... but in every post from here out, I will always try to highlight something which is not me. To interact with another pattern. In this way, even once the depths of my stunningly complex and devilishly intriguing personality have been explored, I might have a chance of retaining people's interest.

That's the key: keep the learning going. Keep highlighting new patterns. And keep it up at a decent but not overwhelming clip.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A Little Bit... Evil?

Does anyone else really, really like the Evil Genius theme song? The one that sounds like something halfway between James Bond and Jurassic Park? It really kicks into gear when the violins come in at 40 seconds, and slams into overdrive at 55 seconds.

Why is it that most of the rest of their soundtrack is so uninspired? It's like they hired someone really good for the two main songs, but then decided they couldn't afford him for the rest of the game, and took someone merely competant.



Here's something that's always bothered me: signatures.

Why do signatures come at the end?

In The Day, letters were signed - but that was a kind of ending note which left you with a clear impression of the addressee's relationship to the addresser. If I sign a letter, "Forever, Craig", it mean something just a little bit different than, "Thanks in advance, Craig".

But when we picked those letters up, we knew who they were from. "Oh, look, a letter from John and Martha!" The signing wasn't to tell us who wrote it - just to tell us what kind of standing we were left on.

In these days of impersonal communication, a large number of posts are made publically. Like this one.

Most of the time, you'll know who you're reading, just as if you picked up a letter in an envelope. Few bloggers bother signing their work, since it's their freaking blog and you can expect everything on the page to be their work. They have no need to tell you what your relationship to them is, because (A) you probably don't have one, and (B) you certainly don't have the same one as everyone else does.

So, why is it that so many sites have commentary and posts which is FOLLOWED by an identifier?

Blogspot has it right: the comments here are STARTED by the name (and pic!) of the poster. In addition, most forums do okay, with the left column containing the name and stats of the poster.

I want to know who is posting. I would also like to know when they posted. Not because I'm an infojunkie, although I am - I've got tract marks on my brain - but because I make value judgements. If someone is posting good stuff, I will pay better attention to them in the future. If someone is a fool, I want to ignore them in the future. The only real reason to hide that from me until the end of the post is if you want me to read without automatically thinking, "Oh, this is going to be great!" or "Oh, this is going to suck." But if you overuse that, I'll just start scrolling to the end first, because people tend to produce roughly the same quality of stuff reliably.

So, if you're hosting a blog, or a site which allows commentary, or anything of the sort: PUT THE NAMES FIRST.

And don't bother with the siggies at all. They can click on your name for an in-depth tutorial mission in which your on-line persona is explored in great detail. They don't need a link-filled siggie - that's advertising, and it dates back to the eighties. We're past that.

On the other hand, if you want to end with a comment that establishes the mood of the piece, that's perfectly fine. That's the new version of "Yours, Craig".

Yeah, we've replaced the terse but robust signing model with a random quote-of-the-day one-liner.

"Spaceballs the flamethrower! The kiddies love that one."

Wormie Bits

I don't know anything about the worm that is going around - I'm presuming it's a worm, but I suppose it might be a virus or a trojan or really any kind of system. Microsoft's sites went down, CNN and Yahoo are laboring, Hotmail died. I'm sure I'll hear all about it tomorrow.

But it got me thinking. My real love is emergence, despite the fact that most game designers this month seem to be about as embarassed by it as they are by bell-bottoms. Emergence isn't a fad, emergence isn't an unwanted or even unpredicted effect. Emergence is simply a system whose complex behavior grows from simple rules. Whether you understand it or not, whether you predict it or not, is irrelevant.

That's a core concept to a wide variety of games, including almost all of the age-old classics such as chess and go. That's not something to discard as a fad, or as an unwanted side effect. It is the heart and soul of tabletop gaming... and it can be done in any environment.

Take worms and viruses. They infect computers and drive them to infect other computers, usually. There are a lot of different types and infection vectors, but each one follows a very simple set of rules, because the file size needs to be small and the data needs to be hard to detect.

However, the behavior this causes is often insanely complex. Witness the targets of this worm: stodgy news sites, the geek antichrist, and the "luser" search and mail engines. All the uncool but popular stuff. Alas, AOL seems to be chugging along just fine, still popping up ads for... itself. Is this something they programmed into the software? To target specific sites?

Maybe for one or two of them, but it is more likely just that the infection spreads based on links of various kinds, and the audience it infects is linked more commonly to popular news sites and mail providers. These kinds of people are also notably easier to infect.

A simple rule, affecting a complex system, becomes a complex effect.

Ever since I was old enough to see two computers talking I've been interested in just that: two computers talking. Sharing data. Okay, maybe more like two million, not two. But computers talking.

One of the things I wrote into many of my games was the "networked simple systems" creature. Whether a hive of bees or a swarm of nanobots, these were simple creatures who communicated on a simple level, but combined to form a kind of distributed super-brain. Classic scifi stuff.

However, as my studies progressed, I came to believe that such a system was rather beyond my capabilities. I toyed with it on and off for about a decade, but never got anything exceptionally meaningful. Not because of a lack of computational power, although I did have that lack, and not because of a lack of network programming capability, although I did have that lack, too; but because of a total lack of anything resembling a method of communication which would emerge enough to be really interesting. No emergence = nothing interesting.

I came up with a number of systems that would be cool to try - they primarily do searching through vast amounts of data - but nothing that would be any better than a well-run database-driven system.

But there might be a good application:

Anti-virus software.

Your anti-virus software sucks. I don't care if it has a $1000/month maintenance fee - it blows. The only reason it blocks any viruses is because it is constantly told by real people how to fix the most recent outbreak. It may also have some basic security measures, such as .zip scanning - but, again, only for the viruses it knows about.

Now imagine an anti-virus system which communicated with other anti-virus systems (other installs of the same program) everywhere. Using a kind of amorphous network and a continual low-level 'buzz' of noise, they should quickly be able to determine when someone is going down, when someone has been corrupted, and so on and so forth.

If given extra monitoring capabilities, they should be able to detect unusually high amounts of processing expenditure and data transfer. Even if compromised, the secure ones can correlate the fact that they're all getting weird data from these guys. If equipped on a mail router, it can correlate that with ease.

It doesn't have to act on this info: just tracking the problem and reporting it to the humans would be a powerful benefit.

The old adage is "fight fire with fire". A stupid adage, but in some ways correct: when you want to fight something, you some times have to fight them on their territory. A virus' territory is not the computers you are protecting, it is the computers you are not protecting.

Use the terrain as best you can: you can't clean the computers you don't protect, but you can track them. Not with any great level of detail: just enough to set up trends. The computers you ARE protecting are your strongholds, and one of the biggest problems right now is that a piece of virus protection software cannot tell that it is, itself, infected and damaged.

But if you're concentrating on the others, then one of the others in the system will identify the damaged system by unusual patterns of data transfer followed by query-response algorithms.

Hmmm. It would be more expensive, bandwidth-wise, but probably not enough to piss anyone off... you could sell it as a combination software-firewall and virus protection.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Tangents and Simplistic 3D Simulation

Well, I now know what a garbage truck's horn sounds like. It has a deep, hollow, sudden sound, like a foghorn. I also know exactly what time the trash guys stop by my place: 4:52 AM.

I don't know exactly what was going on, but I also know exactly what time they STOPPED honking their horn: 5:03. Almost exactly ten minutes of foghorning. I know it was them, because moments after they stopped honking, they emptied the bins.

I should be upset, and I'm sure I'll very much regret the lost sleep later today, but I got a lot of good thinking done in the two subsequent hours of sleep I missed.

In addition to a very interesting dream, I got a lot of mathy stuff done - trying to figure out how to simulate things like clothes and hair within the limitations of Torque 2D.

Long, gritty, mathy concept commentary follows, even though you'd probably rather hear about the dream:

One of the things I did for my preliminary emotion engine was to use rotating sprites instead of, say, continually calculating and re-calculating sine waves and phases and crap.

I put down a 'base' sprite, then I simply run a laundry list of attachments, polar coordinates (translated into x/y for mounting), rotating, etc. I then pin these to the base sprite.

The base sprite, which is invisible, is a rectangle of any dimensions I please. Since I'm translating from polar coordinates, it is an ellipse of any size I please. Since mount points are put in relative coordinates (IE -1 for left edge, 1 for right edge), I can do basic unrotated 'circle' calculations even though it is a rotated ellipse.

I can then rotate the ellipse, and the mounted objects rotate with the ellipse, at the right speed, without me having to calculate out the exact position an object on a rotating ellipse would land on.

I can use the relative global X/Y coordinates for the mounted objects, in addition to how far they've rotated, to determine how to display these objects on the "main" display. For the face, I used three circles: side view, front view, and top view. I then combined the location data for every object on each circle, multiplying by the view angle's modifier, and got a passable location, size, and rotation for every object. All without having to do any complex math after the first assignment.

"Complex" is a relative term.

Now, the problem is pretty simple:

I can't make curved lines straight, and I can't make straight lines curved.

So, for example, if you have a sprite which represents, say, HAIR, you can't have it bend realistically using just one sprite. Moreover, you can't even have it bend UNREALISTICALLY when you take into account things like collision with your shoulders. It turns into a giant mess, and you have to carefully define a dozen "hair sprites" to get it to look good.

In addition, although a series of flat planes for the rude structure of the face (cheeks, forehead) looks decent from head on, it starts to disintigrate as you get more than about twenty or thirty degrees off true. Looked at from above, the face is either a wedge or a square, both of which are not very nice.

Now, 3D graphics solve this problem primarily by adding more polys. Tomb Raider's boobs look pointy? Give them more polygons! It's a simple solution, and not one I care to simulate, because that would require me to (A) simulate 3D in a 2D engine, and (B) actually build models, which would be a pain in the ass. So, instead, I'm going to give it more polygons.

The difference is: I'm working with a 2D sprite system, so I'm using sprites. The question is: can I make a system which is largely automated for displaying a cartoony person in functional 3D? Someone who can turn, lie down, jump up and down? Moreover, can I give them decently convincing hair and clothes?

All of this without the 'blocky' feel we get from the too-few polygon approach?

Well, yes, I think it might be possible. I found a way to distort sprites.

But it's a bitch.

Torque 2D allows us to load up any graphics file, and has a number of options as to how to treat it. You can treat it like one sprite. You can treat it like a number of different sprites, seperated by a pixel of a given color. Or you can treat it like a stamp factory, where each subchunk of X vs Y is its own image.

So we load up the "tailor image" of what we're trying to display. Essentially, it's the same as a skin image for a 3D system, except in a number of different images, one for each 'subsection' of the body. This keeps us from having to cut images twice (which I don't think T2D supports), and also allows us to combine skins without needing to make a new image for every permutation.

We take the level of detail, and split it that many times using X/Y coordinates. Since all images are in powers of two, our LOD should also be in powers of two, to keep us from splitting illegally.

So, for example, if you're looking at someone far away, the image might get split into four along the X axis, plating in a cube fashion. At that range, the cubular nature won't be clear. When we get close, we might split it sixty-four times, although that is quite a lot. Of course, we'll also be splitting on the Y axis. A heuristic can allow us to split more along whichever axis is more critically needed. For example, a face needs a lot of splits along the X axis, but is pretty comfortable with a minimum of Y-axis splits. Not all of these splits will be used: more than half of them will be invisible, on the back or sides of the object.

We then have our rotating mounts as mentioned in the beginning, which have tagged "faces" on them. We use rotating mounts so that we don't have to recalculate sine a thousand times per render. This also allows us to quickly and easily simulate non-spheres - ellipses, boxes, tubes, anything else we can think of, just using other mount sprites with the same tagged faces. Given that most of our "spheres" will be, at best, egg-shaped, this is important.

Since T2D does sprite simulation so well, we'll probably have three rotating mounts per 'body part' (including loose clothes and hair), which will add up to something like fifty rotating mounts for a decked-out human. Each of those will have a number of mounts (128?), but the mounts are not sprites: they are simply mount points. Then we will have a number of sprites which are arranged by those mount rigs, probably a few hundred per person for a close up, maybe up to a thousand for, say, the girl with long hair, flowing robes, and wings. However, these sprites have no collision detection or physics, so I know T2D can handle it. The particle systems regularly pump out hundreds of sprites.

The problem is that edges and shadows are a bit touchy. The outlines are the sprites which have been smushed to illegibility, automagically replaced with simple black. This has some irritating side effects, but I can deal. Shadows... well, you can easily write shadows into an image, but they'll never change! Meaning you'll have nothing realistic. If I want shadows, I'll have to create a semi-transparent sprite which I can then 'plate' over another sprite based on its rotation vs. the light source's rotation.

So maybe edges and shadows aren't so touchy. Layering is going to be a bitch, but, hey, I'll survive.

The other half of the equation is, of course, the actual structure of the body. Hey, I warned you this was going to be long, gritty stuff.

We build the body out of simple primitives - which are simulated by mount points on the invisible mounting sprites. Most everything in the human body can be adequately simulated by a simple ellipse, albeit an egg-shaped one.

I'd want collision detection of some variety on THIS part, since I don't want clothes, hair, and most especially limbs passing through each other.

Of course, this leads to all sorts of simplification errors and collision problems where spheres collide. But that's only a problem when we have things like shading and extreme close-ups from the 'side'. For close-ups, we can build skin "clothes".

The way this - and tight clothing - works is slightly complex. Specify a skin linkage and a tightness. IE: "stomach to chest, tight". The simulator will then demark the 'edges' of the starting sphere, based on what is essentially "belt fan" methodology, which is fairly easy to calculate if you know the radii and location of each sphere. This breaks down a little with ellipses - it's probably still possible, but I don't really know the math for determining rotated ellipses. Study time!

Of course, "loose" belt fans will tend to follow inertia, largely defined by gravity, whereas "ultratight" belt fans will jump straight across that boundary. Think of it like this: two spheres, floating horizontally from each other. A belt fan goes around them, connecting them with straight lines. As you 'loosen' the belt, the top sags down, adhering to the spheres, and the bottom sags down, loosening from the spheres. At the moment, I have no plans to support "weight".

You can also specify an exact SIZE, in theory, which will then calculate the tightness based on radius of the whole circuit. Perhaps I'll even put in stress limits and counter-forces...

Anyway, clothes happen in much the same way. If you define a shirt, you define it as a group of sprite sheets, each anchored to a given sphere and wrapped around another sphere - or left free. Things which are left free are essentially super-loose, allowed to follow inertia as they please, subject to collisions with body circles and perhaps other super-loose objects.

I don't know exactly how I'll handle loose clothes and hair, just yet. I know the basics, but the difficulty lies in wrinkles and cohesian. A shirt sleeve isn't going to just rip - it's going to drape. I'll probably do it by creating another invisible sphere which 'rolls' to the inertia-prone edge. So, when you see a cloth hanging, it's really wrapping around the bump of another, invisible mass.

But I'll have to figure that out.

Fully loose items like ribbons are easier: I'll make them subject to collision detection, but other things can't collide with them. They have no collision sphere - just a point-check against existing collision spheres. This does mean they will pass through other ribbons, but that's so minor I don't much care.

Things like capes and hair are harder, since they are like ribbons in that they don't have a 'drape' system, but like loose clothing in that they can't be passed through. I haven't quite got them figured out yet. I'm not sure whether I'll use some complex collision detection, or just make them a kind of amorphous sheet of connected ribbons. That would be a little ugly - because other loose cloth and ribbons could pass through it. Maybe I'll think of something else. Suggestions are welcome, although if you've read this far, you're insane.

The real difficulty, in my mind, is keeping everything correctly connected. In addition to being able to wrap correctly and leave virtual or real 'holes' for the various things that pass through it, contiguous clothing needs to flow from point to point. For example, a poofy short-sleeved shirt is kind of easy: it wraps around the upper arm and a virtual 'inertial sphere'. However, a poofy long-sleeved shirt not only wraps around that inertial sphere, it continues on to wrap around another one on the forearm. I'm not sure how well that will work out. I'll have to try it.

Anyhow, this will allow for turning straight lines into curves, since this 'plating/striping' method of display gives us a bunch of strips, each of which can be rotated and shrunk to the correct level. This means we can view anything from any angle.

Hmmmmm... I think that's pretty much it.

Now, the final question: Why the hell am I doing this? Why not just create a 3D model, or limit myself to animations which are within 30 degrees of true?

Well, in all honesty I wouldn't mind doing it in 3D. But my 3D experiences with actually manufacturing models have been... not too much fun. In addition, with 3D you have to worry about all sorts of crap like mesh manipulation, and it's almost impossible to do clothes with any kind of useful depth. With my method, it should actually be possible to animate - on the fly - GRABBING someone by their shirt or hair!

This is because the collision detection is simple. The graphical display, on the other hand, is not. So even though the character will be built out of essentially nothing but 3D ellipses, it won't look shitty (I hope). Essentially, I'll be creating the vertexes on the fly. Or, at least, choosing which of the thousands of vertexes to USE on the fly.

It's like infinite LOD combined nicely with an automated algorithm for producing that level of detail PLUS an utter lack of problems with stretching joints and collisions.

On the downside, it probably won't WORK.

On the upside, the emotion engine I've been using is fully compatible, and is, in fact, the basis of this whole deal. It should be possible and, when completed, should be very animated.

I hope.

If you've read this far, buy yourself a cookie. You deserve it.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Preferred by Experts!

This weekend, I didn't really get much done. A fairly large amount of time was spent wrestling with mouths. Given the limitations of Torque 2D, doing a believable mouth is tough, especially with my rather perfectionist bent. While it can do a lot of emotions and even open and close, there are some serious flaws and shortcomings. For example, it's extremely difficult to get different types of lips. It's also very difficult to do complex shapes, such as sneers or disgust. I'm trying to find another way to do it.

The other thing which stole my time away was Evil Genius, which I just got recently. It has the dubious honor of being the most incredibly irritating game I've ever been addicted to.

Then, today, I was reading a few blurbs, and I realized that my preferences in movies and games is very different from "normal" people.

I have expertitis.

Once you've studied something, your outlook really does change. I've studied games, I've studied faces, I've studied movies. So, now I've got this problem: the games, movies, and pictures made for the general public bore me to tears. It's the same with comic books, but I've almost totally given up on them. I haven't been impressed by a printed comic in a long, long time. Not since Maus, as far as I can remember. Sure, the art might be nice in some of today's works, but a comic is more than just the art.

Reading on-line comics, I have a short attention span and very high demands. I'm probably the worst possible target audience, since you have to do something fun in eight or less panels. Without too much text. With good art. Without simply pandering to the lowest common denominator. Worse, I never buy anything! I'm a total dick!

I was thinking about this, and I realized there have got to be a lot of people like me. I mean, if a billion people regularly watch movies - or even just ten million - then there have got to be hundreds of thousands of people out there who are suffering from expertitis, even if they aren't, technically speaking, experts. Why is seeing something for THEM so rare? Wouldn't you think that you could make a movie that the experts loved, and simply by that weight, the general public will watch it?

Maybe they do, and I'm just not in the business, so I don't get to see them. Maybe that's what they show at all those hoity-toity shows that cost several hundred dollars to get in.

But that shouldn't be true of comics, right? You can publish them on the internet and they're not exactly expensive to produce. But there's really not any comics for those suffering expertitis out there. A very few, although I'd be happy to hear you suggest some to me.


I think it comes down to two reasons. First, someone who is good enough to write for experts is probably making a nice little living for himself. Why waste time pandering to an audience which is 1% or less of the normal target? What will it get you - recognition? Write a book! Like "Understanding Comics". They'll buy your book, and it's less effort than having to continually come up with new and interesting comics on some kind of schedule. You can keep poring out formulaic crap for the real money.

The other reason might be because of specialization. I'm a scriptie. I appreciate the power of a good script, and I can smell a formula from a thousand paces. I haven't seen a single movie in the past five years that I couldn't tell exactly what was going to happen, when, for at least 75% of the movie's major plot points. Excepting Troma films, which don't appear to actually have any coherent plot to point at.

So, when someone puts out a movie 'for the experts', what are they going to do? Well, MAYBE they'll have an expertitis-friendly script. Or maybe it'll be the acting they concentrate on. Or the special effects. Or the film techniques.

Moreover, even if they do choose to make an expert-friendly script, what kind of expert-friendly script is it? Is it a freaking dramedy? I can't stand those. Does it mock the norms, or simply ignore them? If it ignores them, it is pioneering some relatively unexplored land, and that means it can go off at some tangents I don't much respect. Hence my distaste for most 'indie' films, which are usually just pretentious people with no budgets being 'artistes'. IE untalented hacks who want attention.

Of course, I might be wrong about that, nowadays. I haven't seen a 'real' indie film since the last time I watched Dark Star. Which, by the way, I thoroughly enjoyed. I guess Troma films might count as indie films I've "enjoyed". :)

But out of all of it, GAMES are the one industry I would expect to have expert-friendly pieces. After all, the gaming audience is highly concentrated, marginally more intelligent than average, and generally continues playing games until they get married, giving them decades of experience. So, do they make expert-friendly games?

They do. In fact, they make so many they've totally lost track of what 'expert' means.

Some of them are exquisite. DDR is both expert-friendly and totally accessable. It is astonishingly good. Similarly, Katamari Damacy is good for both pros and plebes. These are rarities. This is like a movie which appeals to both critics and common viewers. These are like the "Forrest Gump" of games.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have games which appeal only to people who have mastered the play dynamics of the genre. Like any 2D fighting game made in the past five years, where you're simply expected to (A) be able to memorize and whip off complex strings of buttons and (B) have reaction speeds rivalling that of a Dew-spiked housecat. The classic comic idea of "button mashing wins!" has some basis in truth, in the same way that SWAT teams dislike the unpredictable 'virgin' hostile. Although those mashers may win the first time, it doesn't take more than five minutes for the expert to bracket them and annihilate them.

These games are therefore wholly inaccessable to those who aren't experts. The last fighting game I felt thoroughly pleased by was Evil Zone, which I don't think anyone else has even heard of. It had two buttons, one of which was block. It had no keypad gymnastics, no hidden special moves, and didn't run at the speed of light. In short, it was playable, in contrast to every other fighting game out there.

Other genres which are wholly inaccessable: RPGs, real time "strategy" games, wargames, first person shooters, adventure games... wow, that leaves us with a lot of choices for the mass market, doesn't it?

Since so many of our people are experts, that means we really have another tier above that: super-experts, if you will. You can identify these people by their incredibly and continually bitter rants about every game that crosses their plate. Toot-toot, baby!

There are few games that appeal to these people, because the games for the experts are, in fact, too predictable. The only reason I was addicted to Evil Genius was because of the freeform trap system, which I enjoyed until I mastered it. It was, at least for a short while, unexplored and interesting. Most other games aren't. At all.

Like if I went to Sundance every year, I'd get really sick of independent films. Actually, I'd start sick of them, but I'd get really good at predicting them.

But we still have few games which appeal to the public. We've got, what, DDR? Donkey Konga? "Come on, these are shtick games," you say, "they rely on a doohickey to make them fun!"

If you thought that, then congrats, you are an expert. Or maybe even a super-expert. You're not the target audience.

Some people think that The Sims was good for the "mass market", which is wholly untrue. It sold very, very well, but the actual gameplay was not very friendly. It was detailed and complex and very high-pressure.

Sigh... I guess what I'm really trying to say is this:

I really liked building traps in Evil Genius. I miss the more freeform levels in Lemmings and The Incredible Machine. Those games were like DDR: fun for beginners, fun for experts. The combinations could be as simple or as delicately precise as the player could handle. The game could be low- or high-pressure with the flip of an option.

There's nothing wrong with making an expert's game. In fact, it's the safe bet. Making a game which appeals to super-experts would be extremely hard. Making a game which appeals to hoi polloi is probably a good way to quickly find yourself out of business, as it is rejected by our bulk of experts.

But, damn it, I want to see games which appeal to hoi polloi without being made for children and fools. I want to see a game in which the difficulty scales as beautifully as it does in DDR and TIM. I want a game I can play, then play with children under ten, then play with my aunt, then play with my game design friends.

That's why I love Apples to Apples.