Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Movies

I've been reading up on The Movies, which is one of those games which gets me excited just thinking about it. But - get this - THERE IS NO USER GENERATED CONTENT.

You can "create" your stars, dress them in any of the included clothing, put them on any of the included sets, have them do any of the pre-scripted scenes. But you can't create NEW clothing/skins/models, new sets, new events.

AAARRRRRGH! What the hell is wrong with Peter Molyneux? What was he THINKING? How can he possibly release a game like this without letting the players create their own content?

He's scared that people will make R-rated or worse movies, I'm sure. But now his game will die in a matter of months. Come on! This game had such PROMISE!

COGENT and Cognition

I might have mentioned I have a couple of cog sci blogs on my radar. To show you how friendly cog sci blogs are, here is a pretty representative post.

But they are pretty interesting, if you're able to push the layers of contextual armor out of the way and translate it into english. This one touches on a couple of subjects, but one of the central tenets is that you can get a kind of spontaneous collaboration when your brains recognize that other people might have a reason for doing what they do.

He also points out Noam Chomsky, who I very much dislike. I have read his books on linguistics, on knowledge representation, and on politics. He is full of shit, and mocking him horribly got me an A+ in college, mostly because the teacher was too dim to realize I was mocking him rather than supporting him. But that's a personal aside. I'm trying to talk about spontaneous collaboration.

To me, the rest of the post is pretty pointless. The real gem is the idea of spontaneous collaboration. It's hardly a new idea, but it is a critical idea. The other gem is to hit on knowledge representation again.

I hate this "linear" system we generally use for knowledge representation. Knowledge isn't represented linearly. I don't know HOW it's represented, but it's certainly not linear. Some people argue it's some kind of graph system, with related ideas "radiating out" from central ideas. Speaking from experience, I don't think that is it, either: such a system doesn't produce very good autonomous agents when simulated in a computer.

Knowledge representation is critical. If you want an autonomous agent to learn, it has to be able to store and retreive data. That seems simple until you actually try to do it. Let's give the example of something simple: the autonomous agent, which we'll call "Alex", wants to get a sandwich.

Alex learns how to make a sandwich by watching another agent. The data is stored, a consecutive series of steps. Alex can now make a sandwich.

What if an ingredient is missing? He'll have to figure out how to get more of it, or do without. That's pretty easy, right? Well, he's never bought mustard before. He's bought mayo, though. How can he abstract the location and purchasability of mustard from mayo?

That's easy, too. What if he can't find a knife? Is he going to abstract the location and purchasability of a knife from mustard? He'd be wrong. Plus, it's probably just in the dishwasher. Well, what's keeping him from assuming there's cheese in the dishwasher?

Still too easy! I can handle that stuff. But making a sandwich is the weak way out.

He wants a sandwich. He can ask some other agent to make it for him. He can buy it. He can steal someone else's sandwich. He can make it (or buy it, or steal it) ahead of time and then keep it for when he knows he WILL need it. How does he know that he can do these things? How does he know whether he should?

This is just a sandwich. Imagine navigating a house, or trying to make a relationship work.

The core problem is how you collect and coallate data. In essence, data representation.

In a classic linear application, making a sandwich would essentially be a "program" with various options weighted by various factors. Not hard to make manually, but a bitch to learn on the fly. Of course, then it isn't very applicable in the long run. He just keeps putting mustard on? Maybe he doesn't like mustard! Maybe he prefers spicy Chinese mustard! These are mission-critical issues which linear representations struggle with, because they are not flexible. Trying to make them flexible makes them painfully bloated.

I might have mentioned that I created the infrastructure for a reverse-parser text adventure. I call it "COGENT". The infrastructure is done: if I had a game programmed, it could be played. However, the programming interface is, by necessity, a bit less simple than most other text adventures. So programming a game is a bit difficult.

Still, I know how to do it. I've gotten a start, and by using inheritance, I can do a lot of quick and easy stuff once I've gotten past the initial hurdles. It can't be distributed to people who don't own T2D yet, because the object files contain Torque 2D code, which means they can't be distributed (even though they execute fine). However, once version 1.4 comes out I'll create a compile function.

The power here is that objects can modify object files, which means a permanent change in behavior. Human characters are possible, but human interactions would have to be painfully programmed in from the ground up.

UNLESS I can find a way to represent the data. I don't need the humans to LEARN, per se, just to interpret knowledge I give them in a meaningful way.

I've got a few ideas. We'll see.

Outpost Kaloki

Outpost Kaloki is one of those indie games I like. It's made by NinjaBee. It's a simple, fun little game improved dramatically by the tongue-in-cheek setting. The dialogue is pure dynamite. The plot is rock solid, too. At one point, you run for president so you can pardon yourself for irradiating an entire planet.

It's not a long game - it took me maybe four hours to beat. It's not a hard game - the only mission I had to retry was the final mission, and even then, only once. But it is a FUN game. I was happy to pay the $20, and I'm probably going to get at least another four hours out of it.

I would have been even happier if it let you design your own missions, your own progression, your own characters, and so on. In short, I would have been one of Ninjabee's staunchest supporters if they had released it as a tool instead of just a game. Because there's some fun little potential there. I would have enjoyed making my own plot progression, and it would have enhanced their sales power if they could say, "additional scenarios available for download!"

There's strength in having a community. That game could have had a community. Not a fabulously huge one, but one strong enough to drive their orders even higher.

Still, well worth the cash.

New Orleans

Because the news sites are so inflationary, I don't listen to them. So, when something actually important happens, it takes several days to get to me.

I just thought I'd point out that New Orleans is GONE. 80% of the city is flooded - and that's not temporary, because New Orleans is largely below sea level. Even when the city is dried out, the flood damage to the infrastructure will be severe. Functionally, New Orleans is GONE.

The amazing part is how few casualties there are. You have to be on crack to believe the "less than two hundred" numbers they're spouting now, but there's a maximum cap of 26,000, because that's how many people are unaccounted for. Even if ALL those people are dead (which seems highly unlikely), the city held half a million. That's a 5% fatality rate. And it's probably closer to 1%. That means that an ENTIRE CITY was saved.

They made some good freaking decisions. In that situation, one could hope for no better. That storm could have easily killed 100,000+ people.

Why the fuck are people scared of terrorists, again?

Bad Astronomy, Good Reading

I don't know if you've been reading the Bad Astronomy Blog or not, but if not, you might at least take a look. His web site is very fun, and his blog is written with the right combination of humor and hard science to make it hit the spot for a semi-daily read.

Plus, you can tell the guy loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I mean, what else can make you say "Oh, barf. Unknown forces. Puh-leeze."

Edit: Evidently, it's "blog day". Here's four more links you may not be aware of:

New World Life keeps tabs on SecondLife. It's the most reliable and interesting SecondLife blog I'm aware of.

The Freakonomics Blog is probably the most readable economics blog in the universe. It's the only one I'll suggest for general consumption, at least. It's extremely interesting.

Seth Godin's Blog is a marketing blog. Marketing has more readable blogs than economics, but Seth's blog still stacks well.

The Artful Writer is one of the half-dozen writer's blogs on my list. I won't say he's my favorite, but he's very, very good.

I also have a few cog sci blogs, but they're heavy-ass reading, so I won't go spouting them. You can always hit up my bloglines account for a more complete list of the 83 blogs on my feed. That's not as bad as it sounds: most of them only post once a week or so, and some of them are totally dormant.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

More on Data

Data is really my main focus. All of my interests revolve around having and (more importantly) USING data. Of course, I'm a total infoholic, so it's no surprise. However, it's never cut and dried.

Here, for example, is an article about the police. They aren't planning on doing anything they haven't been able to do before. They're just planning on doing LOTS of it.

It's all a matter of cost in terms of manpower. Fifty years ago, it took a considerable amount of time to collect information about anyone. Today, it takes a fraction of a moment, and that data can be used forever. In the near future, it'll take no time at all. It'll be automatic.

Of course, data once collected is hardly useful data. But, still, it does make me feel uncomfortable at the thought that someone can call up a detailed history of me with a button click. More worrying is that names are hardly unique. I mean, my name is not exactly a common name, but until I started this blog, I shared Google's front page with a race car driver. What if he had a blog? Someone searches, and finds out that he's, I dunno, a skinhead or something. The data is there, but the data is worse than useless: it's misleading. Please note: I'm sure the guy with my name isn't a skinhead. And I have no problem being misidentified as a race car driver. He, on the other hand, would probably be upset at being misidentified as a cracked game theorist.

Data is and will always be what drives this world. You can't act on data you don't have. All of the interesting things are about gaining new data or combining available data. All games are about that, for instance. The way data is represented and the types of combinations/deductions suggested are very different, but at their core, all games are about data gathering and analysis.

Similarly, all branches of government are about data gathering and analysis. The police gather data and analyze it to catch criminals. The FDA gathers and analyzes data on the effects of specific products. Politicians gather and analyze data to determine the optimal lies to tell.

Of course, the problem is the aim of these operations. As you might expect, no faction is above corruption. In fact, most of our government factions are openly, publically, "acceptably" corrupt. The police give out tickets for speeding, for running with a broken tail light, for not wearing a seat belt. These tickets are for your own good, I'm sure. The fact that they make billions of dollars a year on this sort of graft is entirely besides the point. The FDA has industry ties - if it were a figurine, it would be buried in puppeteer's threads. Politicians lie - at best. At worse, they are considerably less respectable.

It's the nature of any sizeable faction. Aging unions are almost unbearable because they do NOT have the best interest of their members at heart: they have the best interest of the people who control the union at heart. It is the same with the FDA, the same with the police, the same with MicroSoft, the same with everything. All factions are led to serve the leaders of the faction.

If it weren't for that fact, I wouldn't care about the data being gathered. If everyone was reliable, personable, honest, and good, I would encourage the police to collect and analyze data on me. But they aren't. The police will analyze the data and send automatic tickets for driving without a seatbelt, for driving with a tail-light out, for jaywalking. These arbitrary fines are hard enough to bear when they only strike occasionally. They have already made the general public think poorly of those that should be held as heroes. How bad will this be when we are essentially forced into a protection racket? Especially with the forthcoming economic depression of the early 2020s, where the police will desperately need the cash such a racket would raise?

But whining won't help. You can try to get laws passed, but laws about lawmakers are rarely worth the paper they are written on. At best, they slow the lawmakers down a little. You can try to avoid "the system", which works but has some pretty significant drawbacks. You can force them to publicize all their data - which would please spammers to no end and not really save you any grief.

Or you can make your own system.

The system is so large that it is about as fast as a mollusk stapled to the floor. It's simple to evade, as its ooze spreads and taints the room. Just walk to another part of the room and staple your own goddamn mollusk to the floor.

An obvious example of this would be to move to another country. I harbor lustful thoughts at moving to specific parts of middle/south America. I don't know that I'll ever be able to act on them, but I don't require a strong economy (since my business plans are all tapping global economies), so it would seem to be a great choice.

A less obvious and more eminently do-able example of mollusk-stapling is making your money in a subsystem of the internet. A subsystem which cannot be accurately searched by search engines. A subsystem seperate from the government's automatic data-gathering abilities. Functionally, another universe. For example, making your living in a virtual world, selling virtual services. Sure, your real-life habits might be tracked in great detail, but your real-life habits consist mainly of sleeping and buying food. Hell, if the rig is good enough, I'll sleep and eat in game.

People have been saying "VR is coming!" for two decades, now. But really, there's never been any money in it. No money means no real development, and that means no VR.

Until now.

Until World of Warcraft.

Because every MMORPG player will happily spend $400 on a VR rig. And many non-MMORPG players. Because the time is almost ripe. I expect to see the first useful VR rigs sold within a decade. MMORPGs will rapidly add "SUPPORTS VR!" to their taglines. Players will finally be fully immersed.

Is that a bad thing?

I dunno. It's probably not physically healthy. But right now most of the people in this nation work 9 hours a day for wages which barely cover their living habits. I fail to see how playing a VR game 9 hours a day instead would be any worse for them.

I'll probably see you there. Hopefully, I'll be connecting from South America. :)

Monday, August 29, 2005

"Representational" Databases

I want a new way of organizing data. These methods we use, they're all from the era of cave paintings. Even the complexities of a relational database - which, admittedly, are great for certain applications - leave a lot to be desired when it comes to fully utilizing a computer's capabilities.

The problem is that computer geeks, in their head, they think "database" and they get two pictures: layered spreadsheets and a microprocessor. At no point does "user interface" enter their mind. They think to themselves, "the user interface will be on top of the database, of course. It can be anything." This makes sense to us geeks, because it's the status quo. But the user interface is limited by the backbone, and the backbone is limited by the user interface. Both need to be considered together.

And, frankly, our data-driven interfaces are like laser pointers. We live our whole lives like mimes with glow-in-the-dark hats in a dark cave. Unless we bump into them or they put on their hat, we'll never know the others exist. Computers give us laser pointers. We shine them around, but we can't make out the scenery - these laser pointers have a very limited use.

I want a flashlight. I want to be the mime with the flashlight.

And that means a new kind of data management. That means I can't have a seperate database for every little application. Hell, Microsoft Outlook alone has more than half a dozen databases: address books, calendars, mail sorting, tasks, notes, whatever the hell "outlook today" is, and so forth.

The funny thing is, these databases don't contain any USEFUL data. The data they contain could be just as easily written on scraps of paper and stapled to the wall. The only advantage to having them in a computer is automation. Sure, automation is nice, but computers have the power to revolutionize data management, and the best we've got is a slightly accelerated card catalog? That's pretty sad.

Every day, I push my way through literally thousands of pieces of information. Some is useful to me, some is worthless or worse. My mind is pretty good, and I'll remember relational data long enough that people will look at me bug-eyed when I bring it up three years later. But there's simply too much data. I find myself going back looking over previous data, previous posts, and reinterpreting. But all that previous data is largely lost: I can't reinterpret relational data, and I don't have the original data on file. Even if I did, I often don't KNOW what I want to reinterpret until I've read it again.

Now, computers CAN help with this.

Screw the stuff we don't care to remember. Computers aren't helping me overmuch by keeping track of my contacts - they're just saving me the time of looking them up in my Rolodex. I want the computer to make useful suggestions. Instead of saying "This is John's address", it should be saying, "You might want to contact John, he knows about this kind of stuff". (And also giving me the addy, of course.)

In order to do that, what we need is something BETTER than a relational database. Something in which the needs of the user interface are inextricably linked to the data. Living data.

The problem with living data is that they go obsolete. Not really, actually. It turns into DEAD data. Living data are fire-and-forget data. Even if those old data are relevant, they don't get brought up again.

"Wait, we're talking about a relational database with some kind of keyword search?"

No, no, no. We're talking about REPRESENTATIONAL databases.

What's the difference between a nonrelational database and a relational database? In the relational database, each "table" or "database" "knows" how to hook up to the others. But they are forgetting the primary database: the user's BRAIN.

Everything is about interfacing and connecting with the user's brain. The data should be arranged for "correct" brain interface. Screw fire-and-forget data. This should be "fire-and-remember" data. How?

I'm not sure what the BEST method is, but in my mind I see it as a kind of game setting. Nothing fancy: 2D overhead view is fine. The setting adjusts itself organically. When you make an entry - whether a text entry or a photo or just a post-it note - you can put it in one of the "rooms" or "subscenarios". Somehow, the system calculates out the rest of the room's proximity, and reorganizes the room to feature that new entry. For example, maybe your room is your "linguistics" room. You copy a blog entry into that room. The room does a text analysis on this new entry, along with all the other stuff in the room, and arranges it to highlight the good matches. Maybe the best matches are put on the same table, for example. I also think they should all have fairly unique images - perhaps algorithmically created - to represent their content, maybe with a floating title overhead.

Anyway, the system adjusts to your content. Move stuff from one room to another. Split rooms full of crap into two rooms. Put stuff in storage. Go for a walk amongst your data. Get automated feeds sent in. Track sports with actual team icons and their positions. Visit your friend's "house" and introduce some of your content to see how HIS stuff reacts.

Right now, I would LOVE to read what Darius and Darren have read which applies to my various interests. I have no way of doing that, because their "mindscape" isn't available. This would be the next best thing: a computerized mindscape which adjusts to you.

I suggest a game situation instead of a simple text display because of a game's inherent multi-dimensional nature. I want to break free of this one-dimensional data representation. Data representation in my head isn't one-dimensional. It's three dimensional, and I'm sick of not being able to store it that way.


Economics is a fascinating study for me, and with the birth of massively multiplayer games, economics becomes both more fascinating and easier to study.

Here is a post about SecondLife's recent charity walk, which raised several thousand dollars for cancer research.

I'm fuzzy on how the whole thing worked, but I guarantee that a good chunk of that cold, hard, American cash was from Linden dollar donations.

Several THOUSAND US dollars worth of FAKE MONEY. Made in ONE DAY, although I'm sure the set-up took months.

You want to tell me this stuff is a game? SecondLife is one of the smallest successful MMORPGs out there, and that drive rivals many real-world organized drives.

To some extent, this doesn't scale the same way a real-world drive does. A virtual world connects its inhabitants differently than the real world does, and it may be that such a world can only support a fraction of the number of drives that the real world can with the same population. So, it might be easier to raise funds once, but harder to raise funds twice.

Another difficulty is that you're selling in-world cash for out-of-world cash.

I love real-money transactions in games: buying fake money or characters. I think it's a fabulous thing. I also think games should rely less on "power gained by spending unending hours", which is really the only thing which makes those transactions "bad" in the eyes of the players.

But the fact of the matter is, NO GOODS ARE CHANGING ECONOMIES. There is no cross-economic trade. This isn't like importing cars. Nothing from the Linden economy reaches the US economy, and nothing from the US economy reaches the Linden economy. Every player lives seperate economic lives. Therefore, the economy is no stronger than it was, because no actual "trade" took place.

Or is it?

Although the economy has had nothing imported, it has rewarded players for their drive. This, in turn, will make them more likely to do this sort of thing again. Because the players exist in both economies, a reward in either one (weighted, of course) will please the player. Although the game world is not enhanced, it is in a stronger position.

Also, Linden Labs is unique because they BUY AND SELL CASH. They aren't the primary buyer and seller, but they set a core level of actual exchange between the real world and the fake world. The actual cash barons, buying and selling Linden dollars, they are effectively performing the same kind of "actual exchange" by removing cash from the system and keeping it out of the system until they receive real money. Functionally, this means they translate real dollars into fake dollars and visa versa at a marginally stable rate of exchange.

Still, we're just talking MONEY. Again, we're not talking importing cars. The actual economy isn't directly made stronger or weaker by the movement of cash. It might be excited, but not actually made stronger.

In order to make an economy stronger, you have to increase the wealth of the economy. The "worth" of an economy's standard of trade is largely based on the relative wealth of the economies. That's why Linden dollars are pennies ($3.50 per 1000 L$). There's no strength to the SecondLife economy.

Sure, the living standards are high, but it has no exports or imports save for tourism capital.

How would you connect a virtual world economy to real world economies? How can you export something into the real world, or import something from the real world? Something more substantial than cash.

I'm thinking... but I haven't come up with anything solid, yet. I'm open to suggestions.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Hot Damn!

Holy shit! My main theory for game creation - nested feedback loops - is apparently exactly how Will Wright thinks about games.

Pattern Adaptation Control is, at its core, just a method of linking nested feedback loops together. Nested Feedback was something I thought up in early/middle college. It served me well in my designs.

I love it when I find out some incredibly brilliant person thinks the same thing I do.

Which three games have influenced you most and why?

That's a quote from JoyStiq. I'll take it as a personal challenge, and I think it's a worthy one. I suppose it could be expanded to all kinds of media, but let's start with games.

My young life is a mishmash of games, many of which were video games. If we're not talking video games, "Clue" was actually a big influence on my gaming ideology... but let's stick to video games.

Obviously, System Shock II was a massive influence on me. In every way it influenced my thinking. Perhaps due to an early predeliction towards sci-fi, I haven't yet seen another game whose situation caught me so much as System Shock II. The influence can be plainly seen in all my works.

The other major lynchpin was Final Fantasy, the original. It's not my favorite Final Fantasy, but it is the one which affected me most. For starters, it totally set me up to get memetically hosed by System Shock: on a fundamental level, the two games are very similar. Since I played it with an extremely high fever, the characters in the original Final Fantasy were extremely realistic, and this has since influenced me by guiding my designs towards games with teams of characters rather than solo characters.

Third place could be a very hard call. Ultima Underworld made a big impact on my life, a kind of interim between Final Fantasy and System Shock II. ChronoTrigger, one of my all-time favorites, continually pushes me towards "coming of age" plots and concretes my dedication to parties rather than solos. Zelda, Metroid, and Mario, my old standbyes, definitely pushed me towards a nonrelianiance on stats. I don't much like stats. Maybe it was SimCity - my games all have a tendency towards construction and player content. But I think that's mostly learned from my pen-and-paper years, not from a video game.

In the end, third place isn't a hard call at all. It might be the easiest call.

The Quest for Glory series.

And when you look at my game designs, most of them are obviously trying for the same tongue-in-cheek, fun-yet-grand style of adventure. Most of my games feature the same game dynamic of learning, applying, wheedling, and exploring. As much as my style is slammed into the System Shock groove, in my heart, all games should be Quests for Glory.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Ver 6

I'm going to put my new release on hold. I may have to do some serious refactoring, and either way, it's not going to make me any money in the forseeable future. My games won't, either, but at least they're entertaining.

Besides, my last post made me very curious about a new opportunity. I'm going to see if I can create a breakthrough tool, as opposed to something that's "just like Ruby on Rails, but wholly graphical".

As you may have noticed, ideas are easy, implementations are hard.

Visit, because I'm involved.

Where are we going?

As time oozes by by like a slug fired from a railgun, it becomes more and more apparent to me that "games", as we know them, are doomed. Doomed!

Some of you are nodding your heads, some of you are thinking I'm being alarmist. But, really, nothing stays the same for long, aside from military doctrine. The games we have today - the goal-driven, challenge-based games - are a dying breed. Even though these dinosaurs don't know it, the meteor has hit and the dust is obscuring the sun. Sure, they'll continue to survive on the dying foliage, but a thousand "dino-years" from now, they'll be dead, aside from a few tiny birds as their distant descendents.

And a thousand "dino-years", measured in terms of a game's lifespan, is only a matter of decades.

We're seeing it already. The most popular games are the ones in which goals are secondary, or even wholly nonexistent. Games which allow players to play with each other, games which allow players to make their own media.

We've been calling these games "toys". We are wrong.

These games are "tools".

We could easily call Halo 2 and the Sims 2 "middleware". The fact that they can be played is largely irrelevant to their true power: to gather hoardes of players to produce dramas - both grand and quite tiny - through the algorithms they provide. Every team battle, every silly new costume, every boring tale of familial exploration: these are the things which make the games grow, and these are the things which give the games eternal life. At least until the next generation comes out.

When you sit down and play a game which tells a story, you are not playing a game. You are doing a bastardized event in which playing and story-watching are both required, but neither is closely related to the other.

The game world is starting to glide to a final conjoining of watching and playing. Games in which the playing is creating the watching, or the watching is creating the playing, are becoming more common. And in twenty years, there won't be many games in which the playing and watching are both pre-defined.

Define one, let the player define the other. That's the way it'll be.

Of course, this lets players define the other, and they'll distribute that to the other players... and you have something quite similar to a modern game.

Except you have TEN THOUSAND of them. Because you're releasing a TOOL, not a game.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


I just saw Doctor Who, Episode Six last night. Actually, I saw it twice, spooned or canoodled next to each other or whatever it is those British TV shows do.

I have to say, the Doctor is a pretty good actor! He even has involuntary twitching down! I have to wonder how many takes they took. He's not so good with his eyes, but everything else is class A!

What really impressed me, however, was the dalek.

Daleks are the worst, most grade-z evil alien this side of Darkstar's "beach ball with feet". Their effectiveness and arrogance contrasts perfectly with their idiotic appearance, and they are something of the definitive alien of Doctor Who.

The new episode introduces a number of new, equally cheesy special effects to the dalek. In fact, people unfamiliar with the show would be hard-pressed to tell which are original cheesy abilities and which are new cheesy abilities. So, in short, the dalek is one of the weakest, most laughable alien designs in the history of science fiction.

I didn't read the title, so you'll understand completely that when the blue light in the darkness shouted "DOCTOR? THE DOCTOR?", I felt a definite thrill. The daleks are back!

Better than back, actually. As if it were forty years ago and the term "science fiction" was just being born, the series raised cheese up to a new level. With an added dash of accidental reverse Frankenstein, it hit an introspective peak that no modern science fiction movie I can think of has hit.

This cheese was the finest cheese, the kind you sprinkle on $200 meals at ridiculous restaurants.

Much of it was the dalek's voice, which was impressively perfect. I'll buy that guy a drink, if I ever get the chance.

The episode was fantastic!

Which is good, because episodes 4&5 were weak enough that I stopped watching Doctor Who for two weeks.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Wild West, So You Say?

People keep referring to the internet as being "like the Wild West". I'm not sure what they think the Wild West was, but I think it involves bandits with Mexican accents and shootouts at high noon. That's not really what the Wild West was like.

Well, maybe the Mexican bandits...

But really, the Wild West was the Wild West because of the huge numbers of opportunistic, mostly-uneducated people who streamed out to "the gold rush" for various reasons. It didn't help that the local cowboys were rapidly becoming a dying and very broke breed thanks to the availability of the Oklahoma territory and the prevalence of barbed wire.

The reason it was violent was mostly because of a rapidly rising, badly educated, usually broke, mostly drunk population. There weren't even as many guns as people seem to think: guns were not cheap.

It's true that there wasn't much law, though.

Now, let's compare this to the internet. Does the internet have:

Rapidly rising population?
A predominance of badly educated people?
A largely poor population?
A mostly drunk population?
Not much in the way of law?
Lots of fights?
People can move and gain anonymity pretty easily?

The answer to all of these is "yes", with the possible exception of "mostly drunk". And the only reason people aren't mostly drunk is because alchohol is tough to buy cheaply on-line and sneak past your parents. There's enough brothels to make up for it.

However, there's also a lot of differences between the Wild West and the internet, however. Like:

Immortality - the uncouth can't really touch me.
Unlimited Wealth - or, rather, the things worth having don't cost much money.

These two differences are astoundingly huge. Because it means I don't have to worry about a showdown at noon. Or even some drunken guy firing at me because he doesn't like my "smart mouth".

Of course, we also have automated and extremely vigorous door-to-door salesmen, usually selling smut, and we can't hurt them, just like they can't hurt us. That's pretty irritating.

The way the Wild West was eventually tamed was essentially that the economy caught up with itself and towns could afford to have a police force. The population densities rose in specific locations, allowing the areas to support a strong economy and a number of colleges.

On line, the economy is showing just a few hints that it might, someday, catch up with the population. Our police forces have the benefit of having omnipotence over their patch of territory, so we can get along with fewer police. However, there are no "staties" - local police are easy, but nobody has figured out a way to police the unlimited and ever-growing land between civilized locations. Plus, those civilized locations aren't exactly high-population. A few hundred people, at most. Ghost towns.

We don't have any colleges worth speaking of. The internet is considered a fleeting place - Johnny and Alice, ages 12 and 13, might put up a web page, but they aren't going to attend school here. They do the equivalent of ranching in the summer, but not living here year-round.

Not yet. Not until civilization catches up with us and the internet, like the West, becomes a place people will enjoy living in.

Lots of people live in the internet right now. But few of them make any money doing it, and many of them are working desperately unhappy jobs on the side to pay for their cable connection. That's because the internet economy hasn't caught up with itself yet.

How can the economy catch up with itself?

You know, that's a touchy subject. Economies usually get strong by producing something another economy needs. What does the internet produce? Communication. Just communication.

We need to either figure out a way to make that communication really land the internet IN GENERAL (as opposed to just the guy with scheme) some serious cash, or we need to figure out some other product that the internet IN GENERAL can provide to everyone else in the world.

They key is servicing real economies. More products which service internet users aren't going to be of much help to the internet economy. There are already some companies doing a slick business: Barnes & Noble, Amazon, E-Bay. However, they are not pushing a system which benefits the infrastructure of the internet. They are pushing their particular miniscule subset of infrastructure. Good for them - but two peppers does not a peck prove, as Peter Piper possibly peeps.

What kind of service might be of use? Well, MMOGs do pretty well. Maybe something like that. Once games become FULLY ACCEPTED, like TV, the internet will be a great place to live. Can you push that acceptance faster? Maybe, probably not: people don't change very fast. We're going to have to wait until the young gaming crowd outnumbers the old stodgy crowd, and hope that nobody leads an idiot's crusade against us in the meantime.

Hmmm. Perhaps we should think about cities. Cities always form a powerful nexus of trade - an economy in themselves. The only cities we have right now are MMOGs. Although other places - such as Amazon - have a high population, that population doesn't really LIVE there. On the other hand, people LIVE in MMOGs.

Hmmm. Well, just some commentary. :)

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Little World

This comic summarizes life neatly.

Mystery Novels: How, What, and Who.

I read a lot. When I was a kid, I read a lot of science fiction. In my late teens, I largely switched over to mystery novels. I still love science fiction, but my father reads mystery novels, and his father before him, and presumably his father before him, so I got sort of "non-peer" pressured into them, and I enjoy them. I also enjoy mystery movies and TV shows, especially humorous ones. I'll buy Monk, one of these days.

One of my favorites is Rex Stout, best known for his "Nero Wolfe" novels. Unknown to just about everyone, he also wrote a much smaller number of "Tecumseh Fox" novels.

There are three facets of each mystery story, not counting humor. These facets work together to make a perfect story. Perhaps they could also be expanded to ALL stories, but for mystery novels they are distilled into their purest form.

The three facets are: Characters, an Interesting Situation, and an Involving Hunt.

Some authors excel at one or two of these, but very few get all three. Rex Stout, for example, really sucks at writing involving hunts. His situations are often interesting - one of his Nero Wolfe books is about Wolfe blackmailing tha FBI, another is about cracking a bizarre "reverse copyright" ring. His characters are always good, with Nero Wolfe being the stage onto which all characters are called, and Archie being the spotlight to throw them into relief. But, man, his hunts are never involving, ever.

You see, in order to have an involving hunt, there needs to be something personal at stake for your window character. Mystery novels generally have one window character: unless you're telling a story within the story, it's highly unusual to have more than one point of view. In the Nero Wolfe books, our window character is Archie. Everything we feel, we feel from the point of view of Archie.

Unfortunately, Archie is largely impervious to involvement. His emotions are portrayed somewhat impersonally, even though we stand in his shoes. It is rare that he gets injured or even significantly irritated. Obviously, when the worst a case has to throw at him (and through him, us) is an overnight stand in prison, we don't really feel a lot of involvement in the hunt.

One subgenre of mystery focuses almost entirely on the hunt: Noir. Noir is a genre on its own, and although it doesn't always revolve around a mystery, it usually does. In noir-style film and stories, our window character falls in love, gets beaten up, is totally outmatched, gets betrayed, and perseveres. The window is fully involved, and therefore, so are we.

Unfortunately, most noir films are painfully short on the other two facets, with uninteresting characters that have uninteresting interactions, and plots that come straight out of the weekly police blotter.

But back to Rex Stout. In Nero Wolfe, the shining strength is the way he gives his stories a bedrock. Everything revolves around Nero Wolfe, BUT HE IS NOT THE WINDOW CHARACTER. If you read my post on perfect patterns, Nero Wolfe is a dominant pattern that everything else in the book is related to. This keeps the book focused while also giving us a great way to stir up character interactions and prod a limping plot along. The importance of having this kind of system cannot be overstated: the real weakness of most mystery novels is that they don't have a core.

Noir's core is the involvement in the hunt: it always circles back to revolve around our window character. Thus the endless monologuing. In Nero Wolfe, he seperates the window character from the bedrock, providing a wonderfully unique set of interactions.

It is clear Rex Stout didn't know what he did. He rarely takes real advantage of the situation. His other mystery novels, notably Tecumseh Fox, suffer from having no core. Fox is essentially Archie without Wolfe, and that means Fox is a hunter without a home. Fox wanders from page to page. The hunt is noticeably better in these books, but the character interactions are limp and without any of the glorious fervor we got from Wolfe.

To touch on Monk, and other detectives like him: the weirder and more personally crippled the detective is, the easier it is to discomfit them. That means it's easier to make it an involving hunt. But they HAVE TO BE WINDOW CHARACTERS. Wolfe is easy to discomfit, but we don't care. In fact, we rather enjoy it. Archie is our window character, and Archie is functionally invulnerable.

It's been a disjointed ramble, but now you know more about Rex Stout and the core dynamics of a mystery novel than you ever needed to!

Weekend Programming Update

I bet you thought I'd been slacking off the past three weeks.

Well, actually, it was more "cursing at the hardware failures", but I also have programmed half of the infrastructure for not one but TWO games.

This one is under the working title "Chipped and Overclocked", and is of the underloved "watch the robot you built fight" genre. I'm about half way through the "building the mech" infrastructure, while I already have about 85% of the "program the mech" infrastructure (missing some commands, but everything that's in there works and none of the missing ones look difficult). The combat infrastructure is only marginally started (just the basics, so I can make the programming part actually scan, move, and fire), but it should be the easiest part, given that all I need to do is add health, heat, debris, etc.

Obviously, graphics are placeholders.


The other one is under the working title "COGENT", and is a reverse-parser text adventure - with the capability to be turned into a representative text adventure using sprites if I please. I've only worked on it a little, so about a third of the infrastructure is done, and the only object which exists at present is a chair and YOU. But, damn it, you can sit in that chair and then get out of it, and that's something!

The backbone of COGENT is theoretically much more powerful that most text adventure games - and I should know, being something of an expert. At any rate, it's a downright relaxing break from the nitty-gritty of Chipped.

For tolerably obvious reasons, the screenshots weren't worth taking.

I also played a little ScrapLand. Wow, does that game blow. I could rant about it for two pages, but to preserve what little dignity I have, I will refrain.

I hope everyone else had as nice a weekend!

Friday, August 19, 2005

More Brain Stuff

I love the brain. And how the brain develops is perhaps the most interesting topic of study for me. I try to keep up to date as much as possible.

This article is pretty interesting. A lot of studies show a big shift right about that age - I should be collecting those studies, because they're the interesting ones.

The short version is that kids at three believe that what they think exists and what actually exists are inseperable - there's no concept of belief, or limited information. However, at five they are able to distinguish correctly.

This is a critical change. It's doable to realistically simulate a child of three, given certain linguistic allowances, but it's almost impossible to simulate an older child. It seems to me that along with this "belief" change comes the ability to comprehend plans, make plans, etc.

In short, I think this change is the acquisition of "multiple reality maps". I think that around the age of four, children acquire the ability to keep many "ideals" of reality in their mind, and to scope them correctly. "This is what mommy thinks", "If this happens, that will happen", and so forth. These are highly limited - they continue to improve over the next, oh, twenty years - but the core idea doesn't even really exist until then.

There's definitely a link between these new views and PEOPLE, though. I'm not sure what that means, but apparently "people" is a loose enough term that these links can be associated with flirty triangles, which implies the maps are linked to a concept of change or personality, or something along those lines...

Now, if the brain is created with swaths of subtly different cells, as posited last post, it could simply be a specific brain-altering element isn't readily available in children with autism, leading to a specific kind of pattern recognition being flawed. This would explain the fact that autism seems to cause simultaneous failure at several physically unrelated but functionally related points in the brain, rather than one specific physical point.

Of course, it might be the actual architecture of the brain's elements, rather than the elements themselves, which determine the type of task they perform, in which case it would be a different ballgame entirely.

Is it some kind of self-recognizing feedback pattern? I could see that: the brain learns how it works and sees similar functioning in others, learns how to represent it. Or is it an inborne pattern recognition system which only begins to function once the brain is "ready" (either chemically or conceptually)?

More importantly, is it the "secret" to advanced pattern recognition?

I would very much like to see a test which posits the same thing to apes, preferably while under brain scans.

Junk DNA

Have you read this article? It's in the Economist, so it's not universally trustworthy, but the core of the article is correct: we have "jumping genes", called "transposons". These are pieces of genetic code which magically move around in our DNA. They are largely thought of as genetic parasites, and they tend to do pretty severe damage when we notice them.

"Retroposon" is the class of "being", including both retroviruses and transposons. However, not all transposons are retroposons. Retroposons copy themselves into RNA and then utilize reverse transcriptase to insert themselves in a new location. The second part is the important part: they inscribe themselves into the DNA wherever they want. There are other kinds of transposons, as described here.

"Type II" is interesting because it "buffers" itself from the rest of the DNA, and can hijack other segments' transposase as needed. Type III ("MITEs") are incredibly interesting because they are so mysterious. Tiny little repeating segments found all over the place. Retroposons are interesting because they are actively a part of the DNA's own replicating and "unfolding" process, whereas the other two are obviously hijackers utilizing other methods to force themselves into the DNA.

A clear example of what they can do is found in corn, which you can read about here. "Indian Corn" has weird coloration - that coloration is caused by transposons. Transposons usually inhibit or "turn off" any gene they land in. Without those transposons, Indian corn would be universally reddish-purple instead of mottled and striped. On the other hand, if they were permanently settled on the genes, rather than busy copying themselves back and forth, the corn would be roughly the same color as corn-field corn.

A far more critical example is bacterial transposons. These transposons are carried by bacteria, and when created in a plasmid (a fairy tale for another day, children, but in short: mini-DNA) they can migrate to other cells. This allows bacteria to share genetic segments, such as resistance to antibiotics, from "adult" to "adult", instead of just passing this kind of immunity to "children". This is not necessarily limited to the same kind of bacteria, or even to bacteria, although we usually think of viruses being the ones to edit other race's genetic codes.

In fact, some viruses are essentially just retroposons. Like, say, AIDS. These are usually called "retroviruses".

Pretty cool, huh? Back to the tame variety.

If you've read the long, boring transposon page, you've seen he says only 50 LINE-1 elements are functional. That isn't precisely true - in certain situations, a lot of L1s "wake up", apparently.

LINE-1 segments are found to be active in, most notably, brain production. As you are aware, if you've read the Economists' article, making a brain is a horribly wasteful process in which at least half the would-be brain cells die before the brain is even fully formed. After that, you continue to lose brain cells rapidly. Wheee!

LINE-1 transposons shut off or alter genes, radically changing how the cells mature. This creates a huge diversity of cells.

There are specific chemicals which control the activities of L1 genes, and here's where I start going off into la-la land:

I don't find it at all hard to believe that the different portions of the brain are formed by cells which are specifically affected to be a certain way, thanks to a spray of a specific chemical. This could be a small change - perhaps the neurons in one portion of the brain have a shorter fire/rest cycle - but that's really all that is needed to make the neuron more suitable for a given kind of pattern recognition.

I wonder if I could think of a similar effect for permuting computer algorithm "atoms". Of course, these systems evolved over billions of years and they still don't work quite right, so I doubt my curiosity will solve the mysteries of the universe... but I'll be happy to think about it.

And now you know about ten times more about transposons than anyone outside of the field will ever need to know. :)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A Little Less Conversation... A Little More Action Please!

A moment ago, I talked about a hazy future-world. Now I'm going to talk about something I barely touched on: the pain of SecondLife.

It HAS been about a year since I played SecondLife. Perhaps the learning curve is softer, the experience more forgiving. I doubt it: that part of the product is not player-generated.

This is a starry-eyed post about SecondLife from one of the people involved in making it. Some solid points, but nothing extremely interesting. However, it reminded me of PAC - my pet theory on pattern adaptation. Don't worry, this isn't one of THOSE posts.

It is a post about game design, though.

If you told this guy that he could fly to Paris right now - for a week's wages - do you think he would do what we have done, and never go?

The problem is that we are not told we can fly to Paris for a week's wages. We're told we can fly ANYWHERE for a week's wages.

Our system is flooded. It's not an opportunity: it's just... a part of reality we don't really think about much.

SecondLife is similar. As much as it might remind you of a world of opportunity, in many ways it is not. The system is flooded. Everything is SO connected that there is nothing special about anything. Something is solely what it is. And, in SecondLife, what something is isn't very important. A giant glass castle sure is cool, but only because of the work someone put into it. It isn't cool because it has secrets - it doesn't have any.

The most interesting parts of SecondLife are on restricted islands and in restricted houses. Not because those parts are actually more complex, or more interesting, but because they are secrets. I've seen some of those secrets: the camera in those days was extremely malliable, so you could sweep it through locked houses. Of course, the contents of those houses were always trite and usually pornographic. The only interesting things were the ones which were obviously part of someone's second life. The photo albums, the custom furniture, the untold stories.

Similarly, the most interesting parts of reality are the ones we're not allowed to know about. People in general get a thrill learning a tidbit about something secret. For most of the general public, this can be as simple as learning that a given actor is actually a Scientologist! Or has lost twenty pounds! Or has broken up with their actress lover!

Others are more discerning, their tastes running to conspiracies, technologies, etc.

It's very simple: by hiding something, you make it worth something. By making it an effort to uncover, you automatically add as much value as it took effort.

SecondLife's major problem, in my eyes, is that it doesn't do that. Nothing is sacred, nothing is difficult, with the sole exception of architecture. Which makes architecture the only truly interesting thing in SecondLife, aside from the various usually-pornographic relationships between people.

What if we took the idea of sailing a ship to an extreme? Hows this for a thought-exercize of a game:

Give EVERY PLAYER A SHIP. There is no one "planet" - there are lots of planets. Ships can attach to each other, in essence becoming one, larger ship. Let every player customize their ship. A ship may land on a planet, and a planet may be modified for a significant energy outlay, but the ship is the heart of the player. Everything else is landscaping.

Every player can customize their ship, their outfit, etc. Every player has specific capabilities they either start with, buy, or discover. Perhaps one player has the ability to create flowers. Another player might be able to make extra-large living quarters. Maybe somebody makes hats. Sure, a lot of players have overlaps, but the core idea is that you'll always have a hook - something you can do that most of the people you meet can't do.

By restricting the flow of players, you can make it so there is no flood upon the system. The players won't be drowned in opportunities. The fact is: she's on a space ship. Maybe this planet up here is inhabited. That space station over there certainly is. They'll be people there... but not too many. Maybe not any, at the moment. They might all be sleeping (logged off).

But it's a chance to see what someone you've probably never met has done with their abilities. Abilities you don't have. Each one is special, each place contains pieces of that player's life, even if that player's life is largely just customized flowers.

The point is twofold:

First, SecondLife suffers from a kind of malaise. The players who stick with it become very good at one particular thing - fashion, for example, or vehicle scripting. But the players who have just started - they don't know what they're going to do. They don't even really know what the options are.

By telling them (or letting them buy) "you are able to make flowers" or "you can do telescopes", you are giving them a hook. Something they can fasten on to, something they can "level up" with. Something they can invest themselves in, and something that will enrich your game world.

Second, SecondLife suffers from a glut of products, most of which are worthless largely because there is something better ten feet away. By making it significantly more difficult to find players, you make those products more valuable. Their ship might not be the grandest ship in the universe, but it is interesting, and it's one of the few around at the moment.

Obviously, this has two major problems that need to be remedied:

First, people like being social, and this kind of game works by restricting that. That has to be juggled, but the basic idea is that people can communicate just fine, maybe even teleport. But there's no way to "display your goods". There's no such thing as a world-wide communication, there's no such thing as a globally accessable shop. The closest you can get is viral marketing through your friends, and a sale-boat (har har har) which automatically hails anyone who enters the vicinity with an advertisement.

Second, people like gathering and dwelling in "cities". People will undoubtedly hook their ships together into massive cities inhabited by hundreds of players.

We could stop that, I suppose, in various ways. Complexity could make life support unreliable, for example. But why stop it? The point is, it's a rat's warren. There's no way to "fly over" and "look for the best stuff". You're crawling through places, trying to find something interesting. You probably have some kind of energy scanner which lets you know when a person or something interesting is in the area, but largely, it's a rat's maze.

You could make this game in several ways. You could make it totally nonchalant, like SecondLife, or you could make it somewhat difficult to survive. For example, maybe ships have vermin... but the more ships that hook together, the larger and more dangerous the vermin. Perhaps ships have defense systems that can actually injure you. Death would be largely meaningless, of course: a minor penalty, getting shot back to your ship, whatver. Of course, that would make it disappointing when there was nothing of value to find, so perhaps the vermin arise in places of high 'energy' (large expenditures of attention), but where there are few people.

The advantage of a dangerous game is that things will actually have value. In SecondLife, the only things of value are the things which matter to you as a PERSON. Usually, sex and real money. Real money = land/architecture. Those are the only things worth a damn in SecondLife.

If you wanted a little bit more of a "real life" feel, you could make it so that guns actually have value, or robots, or hacking skills. The difficulty could ramp in quite the opposite of the normal way: the more people gather together in a party, the more difficult the game gets. This would tend to push people to be either wanderers or hermits, both of which would support the feel of the game.

Of course, the downside is that lots of people don't want to play a hard game, and the people who want to be social MOST rarely want to play hard games. So maybe it's all about how many ships there are pasted together. If you teleport over to your friend's ship, the danger level doesn't go up. Maybe it actually goes down.

I kind of like this idea. You'd need to have hella' diverse content, and some kind of method for conspiracies. And some method of pointing people at particular ships for no particular reason, just so they mix it up some.


We Don't Get It...

Gewgaw has a good post. I've tried SecondLife as well. I'd still be playing it, if I had a home internet connection. (Actually, I'm glad I don't. It gives me so much time to get stuff done.)

She has an excellent point: SecondLife is a game on the edge of playability. Some people - like me - like that sort of thing. We don't like limits. We never really accepted games as they were. We like games about pattern synthesis. Most players, though, like games of pattern recognition. The difference is extreme, and most players will feel overwhelmed by SecondLife, even if its learning curve wasn't stupid-high.

But that's players today.

Take a look at this guy. Today, he would be a super-big geek. He would be a gamer, no doubt. Probably one of the adrenaline junkies that plays FPS games continuously.

But if we were to get the man in that picture to sit down with even the most basic of our games today - say, just Tetris - he would be overwhelmed.

Today, it isn't stretching it to say that 90% of people in North America between the ages of eight and twenty-eight could take a pretty good stab at Tetris. They'd understand the concept, and even if they were bad at it, they could pretty rapidly learn to be better at it. That's not 90% of intelligent people, or 90% of gamer people. That's 90% of ALL PEOPLE in that age range. I am, of course, leaving out those people who can't actually play Tetris due to various disabilities.

A hundred years from now, what will the future be like? Will we be on Mars? Will we still be stuck on Earth?

I don't know, but assuming we don't die our way back into the industrial age, we'll be playing games which, if they were available today, would DESTROY us. I'm not talking about learning a new game, or a new genre. I'm talking about a whole new level of technology, an interface we've never even seen. Our minds aren't built for the future.

But your kids' minds will be.

And they'll be playing Will Wright's games. And they'll be playing pattern synthesis, because that's the next step in games.

Your children will be playing SecondLife's children.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Tip of the Tongue...

You know that feeling of irritated frustration when something is on the tip of your tongue? "What's the word? Damnit, it's..." and then, thirty seconds later, "Oh yeah, 'fish'!" The same kind of frustration you get from being almost able to beat a game - that feeling that you nearly understand, you nearly have it... but not quite.

Well, I can't speak for the population at large, but that is a sensation I feel quite often. A tickling in my brain when I encounter something I almost understand. Almost, but not quite. Personally, I think it's a good thing, since it's led me down many interesting intellectual paths. It also makes me a giant geek. You heard it here first: Craig is a giant geek.

When I feel this sensation, I am almost inevitably forced to investigate. It doesn't matter what the object is. Today I was curious about narwhals. I knew some stuff, but not very much. Just enough that when I heard them mentioned, my brain said, "oh, yeah: narwhals. I wonder..."

So I looked up narwhals. Google's image search is... pretty random. You'd think it would tend to pick, I dunno, pictures of narwhals. Whatever, I learned a lot.

Unfortunately, it is not always something as simple as narwhals. For example, I've started feeling that way about music composition. So, I suppose I'll be reading up on that, too.

I'm not here just to talk about myself, though: I'm also here to talk about my second favorite subject: pattern recognition.

I don't mean, this once, my "pattern adaptation control" theory. I'm talking about the whole field of "pattern recognition".

You see, we can do all sorts of froody stuff with pattern recognition. Whether you use symbolic logic, or neural nets (or whatever they call them these days - I haven't studied them in three years), or genetic simulation, or any of the dozens of other kooky methods... no matter which method you use, you can usually get the patterns to be recognized.

The problem is the "the". We want something that doesn't require extensive training or seeding. Something we can just plug in and watch it learn. Or, something we can train in the basics and have it come up with the complex stuff on the fly.

The problem is that these systems don't get that feeling. That, "I almost understand, I can figure this out if I try" feeling. They can't, because they can't figure it out. If you create a speech recognition system, it is precisely as good as you make it to be. If you want to make it use a syntax assessor to help it, you need to make an entirely different system that does that and plug it in. The same for any other kind of help.

Maybe our brain simply has ten million custom systems. Certainly, much of the brain defaults to a given purpose. But brains are highly adaptable: if you lose a chunk of it, especially in your youth, another chunk of it will take over. It may not do quite as good a job, but it will certainly do better than any computer could hope to do when their syntax assessor crashes.

That's the part we can't seem to figure out. How to make a system which can learn to recognize arbitrary patterns and meaningfully mate them to other parts of the system. We can't get a computer to say, "I almost understand how this works... and if I study, I will!"

Just in case you'd never heard it explained before.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Navigating the Commentary

I just watched the first chunk of the first episode of This Spartan Life, which is a talkshow built in Halo 2. I haven't seen much of it, but I've enjoyed what I've seen. It's really targetted at a computer-savvy, game-weak crowd, which is unique. I just finished watching their interview with Bob Stein. I'm going to have to read up on him: he gave me a fantastic idea.

Apparently, lots of people think that "books", or whatever you want to call them, are going to essentially evolve into games, or at least 3D representations. I really just never thought of it, but the answer is: durrrrr, of course.

Think about it. I could (and maybe will) write a long post about the evolution of games. They started as one-dimensional games (even if they were often in three-dimensional space), then two (usually board games). Three was too hard until computers came into existence, at which point there was a sudden re-evolution.

The first computer games had one dimension of freedom: pong, Space Invaders. The second generation had two dimensions: Centipede, Mario Bros. The third generation had three: Ultima Underworld, Doom. It can be argued that we have evolved into four or even five dimensions, depending on how you want to count it, but the undeniable fact is that we have been gaining more dimensions.

Moreover, each dimension brings a new depth in content. Whereas Space Invaders displayed little in the way of deep and meaningful content, many 3D games take a stab at it and produce beautiful (or grotesque) little "ideals" about how the government should rule and how people should act.

Now, I'm looking at writing. Originally, "writing" was simple marks or pictograms on a rock or cave wall which conveyed simple ideas. "Bears here", "we kill deer", etc. Zero-dimensional writing. Then came one-dimensional writing, which scrolled along, symbol after symbol.

Now we've gotten into two-dimensional writing - writing in which the ideal is conveyed in a branched "game board", such that you can take different paths and see different views. Whether this is a simple game storyline or a detailed simulation which contains the author's beliefs (such as the need for public transportation in SimCity).

What would three dimensional writing be? I don't even know what the dimensions ARE. But I do know this: representing a story in 3D would be a very good next step.

Think about this: you've seen the popular bloggers. They post something, and suddenly there's 189 new comments, largely just saying "Yo, kewl." It's a pain to wander through, because they are displayed in one-dimensional space. Each one is after the previous one.

Why? Why? That makes no sense.

Some have "threading", but this is a lame attempt to make it 2D using "closable" 1D threads. Threading might be cool in "real" 2D. Imagine a visual representation of the post - not the text, say, just an icon. All of these comments have an icon, maybe a name, spread out in a field with a latticework of connective rays. As you run your mouse over one, the full text appears somewhere else - maybe at the top of the screen, or off to one side. Or maybe you're using the DS. Whatever. The map reorganizes, displaying all the posts connected to that post.

With a simple click, you can hide or highlight a post, and rate the poster. After a while, maybe you don't even see DickHead90's posts, but BrilliantWriter03's post icons are two hundred pixels wide and impossible to miss.

Why is this not available? It's not even that hard!

Not cool enough, we COULD go entirely to 3D, or at least immersive 2D. There's NO REASON we're still stuck in representative 2D, save for sheer inertia. Someone downloads your special client and suddenly, instead of seeing a 2D representative display, you see it in 3D or immersive 2D. Connected rooms with glittering objects which display or read aloud when you click on them.

You could easily have 3D-specific posts, which are demonstrations and animations. Restrictions to the physicality of objects could be handled either on a user-specified level (I like BrilliantWriter03, so his objects are represented bigger and more powerful) or on a "game world" level (BrilliantWriter03 has enough "reward points" for being a good writer that he has the "special ability" to create giant, roof-hanging posts), or both!

Enter them, and they become their own room, with the representations changed around so that it's centric to that object.

The posts are malliable. Pick them up (duplication). Add them to your inventory. Refer to them in your own posts, which are, of course, rooms. Trade them, use them to argue points. A very careful inventory system would be necessary, because people will collect a lot of cruft. Maybe posts decay over time when taken.

Make your posts interactive. I know that my posts are a fraction of the interaction I would want them to be. Someone picks up an object and it isn't a comment, it's a piece of the post, part of an idea-puzzle that fits into other objects to produce a clear result.

I would do it! In a heartbeat!

Of course, you'd need some KILLER tools.

But could we at least have the 2D thing? This 1D crap is really useless.

Women on TV

I recently saw an article which bemoaned the fact that there are a lot of movies and TV shows about battered or threatened women - and it seems to be going up in amount every year. They thought that was horrible.

Well, they are right: there is a rising amount of movies and TV shows which include battered or threatened women. There's also a rising number of movies and TV shows which include strong, dominant women - often the same shows. Often the same women.

I don't think it's horrible. I think it's good that we're getting this kind of stuff on air. When you hide something, that means it is acceptable. When you glorify something, that means you are trying to make it acceptable. But the shows - they aren't hiding, they aren't glorifying. They're talking about it.

By openly portraying this kind of thing, and by portraying it with a strong negative slant, it shows we are emerging from the time when it was acceptable to sweep these kind of events under the rug. It shows we are moving forward, which is good.

Ten years ago, there was a dichotomy in presentation. In men's media, women were portrayed winkingly inaccurately. They were usually either the worst stereotypes or extremely uptight men who wore skirt-suits. In commercials, they were the cheerfully dominant force, "oh, honey, you're so STUPID, of course it's TIDE!" In women's media, they were portrayed realistically enough - but women aren't the ones that need to be convinced women are people.

The incredible inaccuracy of these portrayals was due to an oversensitivity, a time of over-correction in the search for equality. Our steadily more accurate, more human presentations in all forms of media are, in my opinion, a sign we are now slowing down near the equilibrium and starting to address the real problems. Such as battered women.

Now, take a look at how black people are portrayed in the media:

In movies and TV for black people, black people are portrayed - I hesitate to say "realistically", but they are portrayed as black people, at least. In movies and TV for white people, black people are usually portrayed as either uptight white people, or the worst black stereotypes. It is rare to find a TV show or movie in which a black person is both black and respectable.

Rare, but getting steadily less rare.

Are they following the same curve? Is there a curve? How far behind are they, if there is?


Friday, August 12, 2005

You're a tool.

People cheerfully say "knowledge is power!" But people are wrong. Knowledge is acceleration of power. Power itself is tools.

Think about it. Every advantage we have is based on the tools we use. We win wars with tools. We feed millions instead of thousands thanks to tools. We stave of disease with tools. We can live a hundred miles from our workplace thanks to tools. And, in fact, we gather knowledge with tools.

Knowledge is great. It helps us build better tools, in the loosest sense of the word. But the tools are the critical part. Someone in South Africa will not be significantly better off because he has a deep understanding of quantum mechanics. He'll be significantly better off if he has better tools than everyone else.

The tool-knowledge spiral is ancient, and has been slowly accelerating since pre-history began. Every time we make another tool, we reduce the amount of time until the next tool. A simple look at history shows that we have been slowly accelerating when it comes to important, world-shaking technological breakthroughs ("tools").

Let's take a look at communication: a critical set of tools.

<2900 BC: Alphabet, Heiroglyphs, and Cuneiform writing developed.

1270 BC: Syria writes the world's first encyclopedia.

900 BC: China develops a postal service.

776 BC: Homing pigeons used.

530 BC: Libraries invented.

500-170 BC: Portable "paper" invented.

200 BC - 300 CE: Paved roads invented.

100 CE: Bound books invented.

305 CE: China invents printing press.

1050 CE: China invents moveable type.

1450 CE: Printing press and newspapers in the West.

1560: Camera Obscura invented.

1714: Typewriter patented.

1814: Photograph achieved!

1831: Telegraph acheived.

1861: Kinematoscope invented. Pony express widespread.

1876: Mimeograph and telephone patented.

1877: Phonograph and high-speed photography invented.

1887: Gramophone (re-recordable)

1899: Magnetic recordings, loudspeakers, and answering machines.

1902: Radio crosses the atlantic.

1910: Talkies.

1916: Tuneable radios.

1923: Television.

1938: Non-live television, thanks to magnetic recording.

1944: Early computers live!

1951: Computers sold commercially.

1958: Integrated circuit.

1966: Fax machines.

1969: ARPANET.

1971: Floppy disks and microchips.

1976: Apple I home computer.

1979: Cellular phones

1983: "Computer" is Time's Man of the Year.

That's where my timeline research ends, simply because after that it's wading through piles of crap. We've got optic cables, CDs, HTTP, and a million other inventions which make communication much more effective than it was before.

Some of the acceleration can be blamed on the fact that we're simply more familiar with the modern era. After all, if Haggarus made a breakthrough in 800 BC, how would we know?

But we're talking about world-shaking tools. Everything I've mentioned changed the way the world communicated. Aside from the thousand years of stagnation caused by Our Friend Christianity, Bane of Science, Killer of Thought, we see a fairly straight-forward progression which, to me, implies a FORMULA!

Lets look at the year breakdown, ending at 1983, dropping China for clarity:

~1000, ~300, ~125, ~200, ~200, ~200, ~200, (we're at 100 CE)
Then CHRISTIANITY. Assuming Christianity loses its effect when the next invention is made in Europe...
~100, ~150, ~100, ~15, ~30, ~15 (Thomas Edison kicks in here), ~1,
~10, ~10, ~3 (1902), ~8, ~6, ~7, ~15, ~6, ~7, ~7, ~8, ~3 (ARPANET STARTS:)
~3, ~5, ~3, ~4, (modern era)

What we see is a definitely reducing pattern. Of course it staggers and jumps - you don't find polite patterns in sociology - but it's pretty clearly dropping. There seems to be a plateau followed by a sudden drop ending in a plateau, rinse, repeat. Each era takes less time to reach a plateau. The old era reached a plateau of 100-150 years, then suddenly started making breakthroughs. Those plateaued around 10 years, but at the turn of the century it jumped down to a new low, and that plateaud at 7-8 years per advancement. The eighties saw a plateau of 3-4 years.

Each drop came on the heels of a new system of communication. The printing press, the radio/telephone/airplane, the internet.

When was the last innovation? Can you tell? Has it happened yet?

Has anything happened since 1983 that has changed the way we communicate to such an extent where new ideas come ever faster?

How about satellites? How about HTTP? How about P2P networks?

Would we find other technologies follow the same spikes? Do we see that other technologies - perhaps math, or medicine - follow the same patterns and have the same cycle length?

Well, it's an interesting theory, at any rate.

And later, I'll tell you what I think it means. It's not what you might think I think. :)

Women Players

I've seen a lot of studies talking about how much women play games. I always come away thinking the results are 15-20% too delusional. For example, some studies show that females are 40% of the current gaming audience. 40% seems extremely high to me. Casual gaming surveys for the sort of games you get off Yahoo show a MAJORITY of women. Surveys always make me nervous, because they are crap. No survey can EVER get an accurate result. Maybe women are twice as likely to take surveys as men.

It's not that I have anything against women: I just haven't seen very many women gamers.

But today I went to GameWerks, a large arcade here in downtown Seattle. Friday, lunchtime. And I was surprised!

I would say that at minimum, a third of the children there were girls. We're talking the 13 and under crowd. Also, very few of the people, male or female, were of the physically repugnant stereotype most people think when they think "gamer".

It was a curiously bizarre experience, like going back to a shitty bar you stopped drinking at and finding it full of new-age art and well-dressed doctors. Even the adults in this place were not of the socially worthless kind of person you might expect.

The girls were still in the minority, and notably geeky people still in the majority, but when I was a kid, there was no minority or majority. It was universally male, and universally geeky.

I did notice that the girls were almost always accompanied by family, whereas with the boys of the same age it seemed common, but not universal. Which is interesting.

I also have to point out that this was at the nooning hour on a Friday, which means there is almost certainly a biased audience weighting. But even if it turns out that only 20% of the youth audience is generally female, that's still 10% higher than I thought yesterday.

By the way, it should be noted that 1:10 is about the right ratio for the "over 13" crowd there today.

Interesting times.

Ratings Systems

I like publically available rules. So here is my suggestion for the Perko Videogame Rating System, or PerVid (:D). PerVid is a derivation of the ESRB system, with rules that are universally applicable and open to public scrutiny. Plus, it also knows what "play" involves.

The ratings are:

Early Childhood (any game rated "E" may be rated "EC", as the publisher sees fit)
Everyone, 10+, Teen, Mature, AO (My AO is 21+).

The things which affect the ratings are as follows. You take the highest rating any of your content demands. Please note that I have replaced the alchohol/drugs/tabacco combination with "destructive addiction", which is really the important part.

Destructive Addiction

References to alchohol or tabacco: 10+.

References to an addiction of any kind which is destructive or degrading in any way, or references to drugs which are publically considered to cause such: Teen.

Rewarding or requiring play utilizing said substances: Mature.

Blood, Animated




Blood and Gore


Crude Humor



Situations where there is a perceived chance for injury or death: 10+.


Depictions of any kind of permanent death: 10+.

Depictions of sentient or developed characters permanently dying: Teen.

Rewarding any kind of permanent death in gameplay: Teen.

Rewarding any kind of permanent death of sentient or developed characters in gameplay: Mature.


Violence is not an independent concern. Violence is covered under "blood", "danger", "death", and "degredation".

Language, Mild Profanity


Language, Extreme Profanity


Sex, Mild

Clear sexual references. For example: dirty jokes, sexually suggestive clothing, nonrealistic "nudity" (such as statuary - any nudity containing no genitalia or female nipples). Teen.

Sex, Explicit

Nudity, sex. Mature.

Sex, Extreme

Depictions of sex utilizing illegal or denegrating techniques. AO.

Real Gambling

Player can bet real money on games of chance. Mature.

Here are the ones I added:

Mod Friendly: Graphical Substitution

Player may make or acquire new graphics for game, so game may contain, though no fault of the publisher, nudity and suggestive attire. Teen.

Mod Friendly: Level Substitution

Player may make or acquire new levels for the game, so game may contain, through no fault of the publisher, explicit language. Teen.

Mod Friendly: Gameplay Substitution

Player may make or aquire entirely new gameplay for the game AND game may contain human-like characters. Mature. (AO?)

On-Line Play

Game contains highly moderated on-line play: 10+.

Game contains on-line play in which players may communicate unmoderated: Teen.

Degredation, Cartoony

Depictions of highly unrealistic mild degredation, such as dropping anvils on cartoon characters, non-harmful slapstick, or non-degrading insults: E.

Rewarding use of cartoony degredation in gameplay: 10+.

Degredation, Mild

Depictions of "realistic" mild degradation, such as physical harm, psychological harm, threat of same, begging, etc: 10+.

Rewarding the use of mild degradation in gameplay, in any way: Teen.

Degredation, Extreme

References to extreme degredation, such as torture: Teen.

Depictions of extreme degredation: Mature.

Rewarding the use of extreme degredation: AO.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

PAC: Pattern Depth

There's a lot of methods for making patterns interesting. You can use pattern shock, where you switch patterns suddenly. That's very effective, at least for a moment. You can use empathic patterns, generally used on people, to make the audience feel for (or against) a character. That lasts considerably longer, but is rarely very hard-hitting.

If you want a high level of interest which lasts a long time, there's only two ways to go about it: investment and depth.

Investment is all about getting the audience to feel emotional about your pattern. We'll talk about that some other day.

Depth is the one we'll talk about today.

Depth is the part of a pattern that the audience KNOWS exists, but they can't clearly see. The Force has a lot of depth in several dimensions. First, it affects everything, so we can imagine how it would affect our lives, or how our lives would be in that universe. We can't clearly see how it would, but we can hum a few bars and fake it. The other major dimension the Force is "deep" in is how it actually works. Why is it dark/light? Why does it allow people to do the things they do? Why does it run in families, and what kind of end goal does it push for?

The mystery is a major part of the appeal. Of course, the pattern is also deeply invested - which we'll talk about some other day - but the depth is also extremely important.

Another example is Dune. Dune is explained, over and over, but each explanation shows a darkness where we know there must be a pattern, but we don't know what the pattern is.

Most really great films in my favorite genres are like this. Not all films have these patterns, of course: Comedy films usually don't, and romances tend to avoid anything even remotely interesting. But even romances can be argued about: they are often about exploring someone's personality, someone's history, someone's life. They are all about knowing there is a mystery in that person, and trying to find what it is.

Unfortunately, they inevitably SOLVE that mystery. ("My mom - choke - she wore checkered print. It was horrible..." "Oh, you poor incredibly handsome man, let's go get married.")

Solving is a no-no.

Solving is good - it's a reward - but each solution should only draw the audience deeper into the darkness, reveal that more mysteries await. You should never clear up all the mysteries, because that's not interesting.

Fortunately, the way a pattern can interact with other patterns will almost always remain a mystery. That's one of the Force's big draws, after all.

One common method is using "PERFECT PATTERNS". A perfect pattern is a pattern which cannot be stopped, cannot be truly harmed, and always accomplishes whatever it is supposed to. This occasionally happens in movies or books, usually in chick fliks, but it is also a cornerstone of some of the best science fiction ever. For example: "I have terminal cancer..." is the version you might see in a chick flik, but "I am a pawn of the Force..." is the version you'd see in scifi. Both are the same: there is an unstoppable pattern involved.

The method is then in mining the perfect pattern for secrets - usually the secrets of how it interacts with other patterns (which, as you recall, is an endless secret). Usually, the other, lesser patterns are actually the ones which do all the heavy lifting.

Star Wars is an excellent example. The Force is a perfect pattern. Luke, Darth, and Obi-Wan spend their movies slamming into the perfect pattern, and the results are what is interesting.

Of course, the perfect pattern can be anything. In the Alien and Terminator series, it's the bad guy. Those get defeated in the end, so you might say they aren't perfect patterns, but they are the patterns against which all other patterns are crushed. In Dune, it's the whole Spice/worms complex. In the Matrix, it's the Agents, and when they are defeated, the robots. In Finding Nemo, it's Nemo being lost. In a chick flik, it might be someone's mother.

The idea is the same: by providing a focal pattern, you can provide a baseline for judging patterns and how they change.

You probably don't NEED a perfect pattern, a focal point. But it is handy, and the reason I mention it is because, in games, it's usually the avatar.

That's right. Sure, you might be fighting the big evil bad guy, but in truth, YOU are the perfect pattern. YOU are indestructable, unstoppable, and always come through in exactly the way you are intended to. You never fail, unless you were supposed to fail.

The game revolves around YOU. And the best games show how other patterns are crushed against YOU. In System Shock, you are an unstoppable virus, dismantling the careful plans of the Many, then dismantling SHODAN. In Final Fantasy III, you are an unstoppable team, and you watch as that distorts the patterns of both your team mates and the world at large.

Of course, it is pretty common to have ANOTHER, pseudo-focal pattern arise. A bad guy. But that is largely just to allow the player to have a feeling of challenge instead of, as in the Sims, being a god.

People often cheat to reduce the challenge. People always improve, trying to get more and more powerful. Gamers WANT to be the "perfect pattern", and the only way you can let them be is if you throw other patterns against them and have them crushed by the player. These patterns need to be ever more powerful, to reflect the growing confidence the gamer has in his pattern.

Well, it's one way of thinking about it, at least.


I'm not happy with the ESRB. I've been arguing in the IGDA forum about it. I'm probably being a big jerk but, hey, you work with what you know. is a description of their ratings process. They keep the questionnaires and requirements a secret.

Let me review:

You want your game rated. You talk to the ESRB. They send you a questionnaire, which you are bound to keep absolutely secret. You fill out the questionnaire and send them video copies of the "worst of the gameplay".

Then they hand that stuff over to three people who do not play video games to rate.

You are allowed to resubmit if you want a different rating.

They never play your game.

In addition, RockStar did nothing wrong, because they couldn't send these guys a video of the sex stuff - it was not part of the game.

The ESRB has done nothing but stupid shit during this fiasco, and I've been really angry at them for weeks. Now I'm even angrier.

They never even play the games they rate.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

INIX, the UNIX of the FUTURE!

We live in a world of connected data. When you browse your book order, you can click for more information on the book, the author, people who read the book, reviews of the book, price comparisons, special offers, books related to this book, and so on. With one click, you can access a lot of data.

Almost all that data helps to sell books. That's to be expected: that's where the money goes. But we've had that kind of system running for years, now. Let's turn that into something a bit more useful to everyone.

I call it INIX: Interactive UNIX.

If you've done any kind of UNIX-like install, you know the dread. Perhaps you look forward to the inevitable hang-ups and irritations. A posse of missing drivers, a whole host of programs not interacting in the right way, and that's not to mention stupid stuff like not being able to make it boot without the install disk being continuously in the tray.

We're PAST that stage. There's no reason for us to slog through to hazy on-line forums begging for crumbs from people who don't even know what the situation is because we're too clueless to know the important things to tell them.

Here's where INIX reigns supreme. In INIX, if something happens, you get options. With a few arrow keys (or, hey, have mouse support right from the get-go, it's 2005!) you can select all sorts of responses. Instead of the useless "Not found, oh well" messages you always get, why not a "not found: here are some methods to fix it, automatically generated from the code parser."

Non-bootable disk error? Click the link, and it'll tell you WHY it thinks it needs a disk, and even let you alter the files right there, without needing a reboot or a painful manual edit. Can't find a particular library? Click for a detailed description of the library, along with places it can be found or - even better - the option to go download it RIGHT NOW, install it automatically, and RECOMPILE WITHOUT EVER SEEING THE SYSTEM PROMPT!

Why is that beyond us? It's not. I want to be able to click on a running process and pull up a list of not just what resources it's using, but what the hell it IS, and what it's DOING.

That's INIX. INIX knows itself. As it executes critical code, it tracks what the code is doing, and how it fits into the global framework. Then, it can tell the user these things, and even let the user edit code right there, along with providing helpful mini-macros containing likely permutations.

Sure, it's a bit bloaty. Sure, it would require an essentially ground-up rebuilding of Unix.

But you know what? It'd be worth it. Because all systems - UNIX or Windows - suck monkey balls. This would go a considerable way to letting those monkeys go free, and getting on to sucking something tastier.

PAC: Pattern Relevance

What we want, when we make entertainment, is to get the audience to be interested. Entertainment and fun are methods of doing that, but, as I've said before, I hope most people weren't having "fun" while watching Schindler's List.

Similarly, people weren't having "fun" when Aerith bit it in FFVII. But it is considered (foolishly) one of the most memorable moments in gaming.

With that in mind, there's nothing wrong with "fun". But this post isn't about "fun". It's about "fascination". Fascination is what you're aiming for. Aerith's death was fascinating. Schindler's list was fascinating. Pong was fascinating. It was also fun.

The way I'm thinking about fascination is simple. Think about when you were younger, watching something happen. Almost anything. Ants carrying food, let's say. Wow! Interesting stuff! Ants. Yeah.

It's unlikely you've sat down and watched ants carry food any time recently. Been there, done that, got the bug spray. What was it that was so fascinating the first time you really looked at them? The way they hesitate briefly before scurrying onward? The way they fiddle around, pulling and pushing against each other at random until they get something that works? The unerring trail they follow? The fact that hundreds of them wander around at once?

Whatever it was, it was something you hadn't seen before. And, really, you probably haven't seen it since. It was of only momentary interest: it really had no effect on you.

It's the same for entertainment. Most of the greatest books and movies have a new and unique pattern. As time passes, the most successful patterns are replicated and make the first story outright campy - like werewolf and alien invasion stories. This diminishes the original because it is no longer exploring a vibrant new pattern, it is a slow-ass tour of a pattern you've seen a million times in more advanced forms.

But not all new and unique patterns are interesting. For example: I could tell you about the methods they use to determine the elements stars are made of by dissecting their color, and how they have to deal with the speed of the star... but most of you wouldn't be interested. Even if you are geeky enough to be, most of the general public really isn't.

They are not curious about it, because they have not spent most of their lives learning geeky science stuff - the patterns of science. Because I have, new scientific "patterns" (theories, technologies, implementations) interest me. On the other hand, I don't like sport's games... largely because I don't watch or play much in the way of sports.

The pattern has to be relevant to the audience in order to be interesting.

One of the easiest ways to do make this happen is to make a "window" character, who is essentially a direct link to the audience. Using various empathy-building techniques and a series of personal patterns which most people will have enough experience with to find interesting, the main character is made relevant. Then, anything which affects him is also automatically relevant.

This is doubly easy in video games, where your avatar has instant relevance regardless of emapathy and personality. After all, your avatar is how you interact with the universe. If he is reduced, you are reduced. If he is enhanced, you are enhanced. Instant relevance.

Relevance is like a virus. It spreads. Once the window character is made relevant, everything which affects him is made relevant - although not always in the same direction. For example, I would gladly have seen Cait Sith die, and when he DID, I was overjoyed. I wasn't voting FOR him, but he was still relevant.

This is a pretty basic concept, but I decided I better post it. If it affects something that means something to you, it means something to you. If it means something to you, you want to know what it's going to do and how. That last part is important: that's where the fascination comes in. That's why simple, boring patterns are largely uninteresting: they're largely predictable.

We'll talk about pattern depth and probably touch on methods of creating window characters in the future.

Comments appreciated: this is a very old concept for me, dating back at least five years, so it's very firmly entrenched in my mind.