Thursday, June 30, 2005

Cartoonists and Avatars

I've been reading a lot of cartoons recently, and more than the fair share of them have been about the person writing the cartoon. Since most people who do that sort of cartoon aren't all that shy, you'll see occasional photos of them.

I've noticed that, on the whole, unattractive/plain artists have cute l'il cartoon avatars, while attractive artists have really plain or even ugly avatars. The only ugly artists I've seen pictures of (strange, they don't post many pictures of themselves) ALSO have ugly avatars.

Innnnnnteresting.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Sketches

Something a little lighter.

Except the first one, I drew that stuff early last weekend. The coloring takes too long.

Modeling the Future

Many people didn't like the movie "Starship Troopers". I liked it, however. It was entertaining, if not exactly the pinnacle of awesomeness people wanted. Denise Richards was especially cute, and I really emphasized with the brainy guy.

The reason I bring this up is because, in the movie, the brainy guy joins the military and is in "games and simulations" (or something along those lines) and everyone was very impressed.

I've always known that simulation was important, but it was when I watched this movie on the big screen that I realized games were integrally related to simulation. I was only seventeen, still in high school, so I can be pardoned for my blindness before that moment.

NOW we find out that NBA Live 2005 predicted who would get into the finals and even predicted that the underdogs had the potential to win (which, evidently, they did).

I don't follow sports. I like PLAYING sports, but just watching sets my teeth on edge. I always want to see "how would it have turned out if they had done THIS instead", but that's never possible. So, without the interactivity that actually playing gives, I find sports both boring and irritating.

But as a case study, sports are exquisite. This is because sports are a closed system full of known entities. Also, the games are so popular that they are extremely realistic. Averaged over a huge number of games, you can actually see the correlation between your game and reality - and tweak accordingly. Since this has been going on for at least a decade, every year getting more tweaking and more accurate, it is now unnervingly prescient.

When you think about it, it makes sense. You're simulating a game with a game. It's not surprising that it is pretty solid.

Except that those are HUMANS your codifying. Codifying ACCURATELY. Within the boundaries of the game, the humans are grossly predictable, even if their fine behavior will behave differently. They are automita.

Other fields - such as wars, politics, and economics - are not easy to simulate. They are open worlds with hidden variables and very limited information. They also cover a much larger span of time, making it more likely that the outside world will interfere in a way not related to the simulation's primary goal. Like, say, the president having a heart attack. Or a tsunami wiping out an oil platform.

So you can't get accurate simulations.

But you CAN get RESILIENT simulations.

By setting the bounds of 'random crap' in your simulation, you can simulate a wide range of conditions and come up with the best possible set-up to deal with unforseen circumstances.

For example, you could run the NBA simulator eight trillion times with a high level of static. The static will injure a given player, or have a player's personality change due to media/police interactions, or have the coach get sick, or any number of other situations which could easily happen. The game could then tell how well the team reacts to any given misfortune. And, in fact, the coach could use this information to, say, shore up his team with an extra forward. Or he could find out that if he benches player X and puts in player Y, his team improves - even though player Y's ratings are actually lower.

THIS kind of simulation could be extended to businesses, wars, and governments. You can't tell exactly what is going to happen, but you'll know how much misfortune you can handle, and where the stress points are.

Cooool.

Skeptics and Psychics

Let me start off this post by saying that I don't believe in psychics. I don't believe in abductions, ghosts, telekinetics, telepathy, precognition, televiewing, angels, or any of that crap. I've seen the human body do some amazing things, and I have gotten to see some really incredible people who can tell astonishing amounts with a glance - but these are not psychic powers, any more than an olympic champion or sharpshooter is psychic.

And I've seen a lot of psychics, witches, martial artists, and other people who tout these powers. Not once - and I didn't start as a skeptic - but not ONCE did these powers actually turn out to exist. Save the aforementioned astonishing physical and mental conditioning, that is. Given that these people, so far without fail, tell me I have 'great potential', I would think I would have been in some way affected.

One of the things that most skeptics - such as myself - hold as a giant whack against would-be psychics is that they never PROVE their psychic power to the world as a whole. Randi offers to give a million bucks to anyone who can prove ANY kind of psychic power.

But yesterday, I thought about it again.

Let's play pretend. I'm a psychic. I've got hoopy powers. When I show them to people, people immediately attach to me, essentially becoming acolytes. People often will want to use my powers for their gain, will beg me to teach them, etc. I will be very familiar with this, and I will view ALL people as acolytes and abusers waiting to be born.

With that in mind, let's review Randi's challenge.

A) I fail. All I've done is waste time and money, as well as weakening my follower's faith in me. End result: I lose.

B) I succeed. I gain some money - which I don't need, since real psychic powers would offer a trillion different opportunities to make money - and Randi touts me as a "real psychic". The next day, thirty million people show up on my doorstep. That, of course, isn't including the various government, corporations, and syndicates who are now interested in my powers. End result: I lose.

So... IF I was psychic, WHY would I EVER want to 'prove' it?

So, the basic idea of 'no proof' is flawed. They shouldn't WANT any proof to exist. They can get by just fine gaining new cult followers and taking up new jobs no faster or slower than they want. Thirty million people suddenly pestering you would be HORRIBLE. It would be a NIGHTMARE.

Hm. Well, it's too bad that there aren't any psychics, because if there were, they're awfully clever bastards!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Riffing Patterns

Most of my entertainment theories (games, writing, even my lame comics) revolve around the idea that the audience will be attracted to the way the patterns form, change, and interact.

This can lead to a very straight-forward method of creation, in which you build (or steal) a pattern, then go and wank some jazz with it. The player, in theory, follows along, lauding you for your incredibly fun game. Hopefully while using sentences which don't run on and on like a herd of stampeding cattle who only want to get away from the hyenas trying to eat them.

This works for the games I've run, but the result is spotty. Only people who like the patterns included like the game. So, while some people rave about my games, others aren't interested in the slightest. There are things you can do to try and fix that, especially in a computer game - but that is outside the scope of this post.

Here I'm going to show you a few things you may NOT have realized were pattern manipulation. A few things you might have noticed have a very powerful affect on players.

The first is AESTHETICS. From character design to the way someone moves, aesthetics are a powerful lure. In Prince of Persia, you can run along walls. This is very cool, not just for the reasons of gameplay, but because it looks "wicked awesome". To be scientific.

This is because they take the established patterns and do a newish thing with them. Something the normal patterns don't, as a rule, do. In Prince of Persia, running along the walls is awesome. This is because nobody else does it. Not inside the game, not outside the game - it's an interesting quirk in the global and local patterns. In addition to the yummy gameplay dynamics, it also gives the prince a very tangible power - and power is attractive, automatically. So long as your audience grooves with that kind of power.

Similarly, a carefully designed character is obviously derived from a pattern, but strikes a new(ish) chord. For example, Darth Vader was hardly the first kick-ass black-helmeted supervillain to grace our collective unconscious. But at the time, they were uncommon, he struck a chord – it was a good use of pattern manipulation.

As you can see, gameplay patterns aren’t the only patterns available to be built and manipulated. You can also manipulate social patterns, cultural patterns, and anything else. However, gameplay patterns are the most robust, as you can run through iterations of different dynamics... which is quite difficult with aesthetics – once you’ve done some aesthetic change, it’s pretty much set in stone, meaning there’s no interest past the first "awesome!" spike.

But wow, the moment you see it, it’s a hook. By blending with play patterns, you can get players totally immersed. So long as the patterns you’re basing your aesthetic decisions off of are familiar enough to the players, so they can appreciate your new chord.

Now, ANOTHER interesting twist on the pattern idea is that of character creation. Most people who like those sorts of games will agree that creating a character is probably the MOST fun part of the game. Me and many other players spend hours creating various characters, often playing an hour or two of game, then starting over and creating a different character.

Why is it so much fun?

There’s a couple reasons, including the fact that it lets us ‘see’ into the game, and the fact that we’re experienced character-creators, so we like to see how the new instance of character creation functions.

But in order to see those two benefits, we have to have liked character creation in the first place. What is the source of our love? It’s not like Joe Average picks up a game and says, “Whoa, cool, I can choose from eighty skills!” He’s more likely to be overwhelmed! (Although the aesthetic patterns are more familiar, so he’ll probably feel comfortable making the visual for his character.)

We begin to get addicted to character creation when we realize that every time we see it, it has a massive pattern behind it.

Think about it like this: you get to play in the Star Wars universe in a game of unprecedented flexibility. As a Force-user. You get a light saber, you can leap hundreds of feet, you can control minds, pilot ships, assassinate ewoks. You can do all this cool shit!

Now, what kind of character will you play?

Likely, you bubble over with ideas. “I want to play a Sith lord! With Force lightning!” and “Oooh, a chance to play an upstanding Jedi!” and “I’m gonna try for neutrality, and I can’t wait to see what kind of ship-building they have!”

Each type of character takes the huge pattern and enables you to see part of it. And we, experienced gamers, know this. Because of this, we see what I’ll call an ‘anticipatory pattern’. We know there is a pattern (even though we haven't actually seen it), so we get excited by the option to manipulate that pattern.

How we could use this in other ways, I haven’t yet thought about. But it is an awfully interesting tidbit. It does seem that it is only useful for people who have established, genre-size play patterns in their mind. Hmmmmm.

Razors and Digital Ink

I cut myself shaving this morning. I really hate when I do it.

I've cut myself shaving with a straight razor before. That's a big deal! That's one of those things that requires immediate attention or you'll bleed to death right there in the bathroom sink!

But cutting yourself with a safety razor like I did this morning, that's much worse.

First, depending on how much marketing hype you've bought into, it will leave multiple parallel cuts, because more blades means more cuts.

Second, despite the fact that it is a teeny-tiny wound, it bleeds for just as long.

Third, you feel like a total shmuck. I mean, what are you, four? It's a safety razor. Cutting yourself with a safety razor is one step below stapling your finger to the wall.

In some of the moments I was not busy cutting myself with a safety razor, I tried to figure out a better way to 'ink' my drawings using my tablet. I made five distinct comics, none of which are particularly good. I only brought one in for show and tell, mostly to point at the inkwork.

Small version
Big version

I told you it wasn't very good - I'm trying to figure out a fast, reliable method of inking. Tell me what you think about how it looks, because I'm too close to the issue at hand.

My biggest problem is actually one of scaling. In the past, I did mostly full-size images. In case you aren't aware, full-size images are generally 500-800 pixels wide when reduced. You use sharp, thin lines and a lot of nice coloring. It takes hours to do one image. I've put up an example or two before on this blog.

However, those practices don't scale well to comics, in which an image will probably be less than 200 pixels wide and have to be pumped out in a matter of tens of minutes instead of hours. The comic above took about ten minutes a tile, which is pretty darn good, methinks.

But the knacks I learned for my image work - thin, sharp lines and shaded colors - work against me. When you shrink an image to 25% of its original size, it loses those tiny lines and the colors burge unnaturally sharp.

So, I spent maybe eight hours this weekend trying to get thicker, cleaner lines and experimenting with colors. Coloring the images doubles the amount of time that these images take.

I even tried some vector stuff. I love how vector art looks, but I have a hard time with them - it takes me hours to get ANYTHING vectory done.

So, give me your opinion.

Friday, June 24, 2005

I need a pit bull.

So, since I moved in, my mailman has been giving me other people's mail. Mail for the previous tenants of my apartment. Mail for my landlord. The real problem is that I check my mail maybe twice a week, so in addition to whatever the re-mailing takes, add on another two days.

I don't really know how this is supposed to work, but my landlord got irritated enough at having his IRS check delayed six days that he told me he "talked to" the mail man.

Yeah, I can tell. NOW the mailman gives me ALL the wrongly addressed mail. Apartment R03? Yeah, stick that in 602. No apartment number? 602. Addressed to Germany? 602.

The worst part is that I'm not allowed to OPEN or THROW AWAY any of this mail. I have to carefully and "immediately" give it to my landlord. Damn you, mailman! You will rue the day you crossed me! This mailbox isn't big enough for the forty-six of us that get mail here!

Rue! Ruuuuuue!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Memories and Language

Here is an essay which describes memories in the very young, which got me thinking. People always talk about "thinking to themselves" as if they were talking in their head. Here's my question:

Do most people actually "think things out" via language in their head? I don't. I can hear these words as I type them - not before I type them - but that's just because I trained myself to be able to tell whether they would sound decent spoken. The only time I think in words is when I'm daydreaming or trying to think of a particular word.

I think this might be related to my extremely poor "situational memory". I have a very good memory for concepts and relationships. I have a very poor memory when it comes to remembering a particular event, or what happened on a particular night, or anything else which isn't directly related to some conceptual model. Most people talk as if they have "clear memories" of their childhood or important parts of their life. For example: "I still remember exactly what I was doing when JFK was assassinated! I can remember it exactly."

I can't. The only "memories" I remember like that are ones I've gone over in my head quite a few times - PUTTING THEM IN WORDS. I'm pretty sure they don't directly relate to the originals any more. I can remember how many fights I got in, I can remember my poor grades... but I can't remember why I got in the fights, or with whom. I can't remember who the teachers were, save for a few exceptional ones, and they are so foggy I might as well have just seen them on a TV show a few weeks ago.

Also, a lot of people tend to go over things in their mind over and over. For example, if someone does something to you, you might have a hard time sleeping that night because you're going over what happened and all the responses - zany and realistic - that you should have done/are going to do. This implies - in my mind - that this is a simple mechanism for firmly lodging that event into the core of your brain. You're describing, re-describing, and propagating a specific event. Next time something like it happens, you'll be ready! Ready-ER, at any rate.

Strange. Makes me think. Think, not "speak in my head".

I wonder if this relates to introversion/extroversion, or maybe creativity, or some other facet of personality that isn't adequately explained by anything else. I know that I can tell a pretty wild story - perhaps this is because my language center isn't "limited" to the reality that hundreds of lingually-encapsulated memories have shaped. Free of standard "logic chains" shaped by ten thousand memories of ten thousand days, my language center is out of control! Wooo! Parrrrteeeee!

So tell me: when you think, do you think "out loud" in your mind? Or, like me, do you just think?

Connecting the Blogosphere

One of the things that I always think about is efficiency.

In the blogosphere, a lot of people read a lot of different blogs. However, within a given "circle", blogs are largely shared. For example, I read Darius' blog and Darren's blog, and they are at least pretending to read mine. Having tapped into several distinct blog circles, I can safely say that this is very common.

One of the things bloggers really like to do is post commentary on someone else's news or blog. In fact, some of the most popular blogs do nothing but filter their blog circle for the most interesting posts. However, even less networking-dedicated bloggers will often link to a clever post.

My interest in this post is in optimizing the communication between bloggers.

Right now, the various 'networking bloggers' have dramatically overlapping circles of influence. When something interesting pops up on "mind hacks", I see it in three other blogs as well. That's inefficient, especially since they invariably say "this is cool, go read it". In fact, I rarely see an interesting link to a blog OUTSIDE the circles I've seen. When I do see one, I find it is another circle, and thus a door to ten other blogs - no loose ends, all commenting on each other.

I understand the need for this kind of mental topology. By keeping a group at a hot boil, they can develop a distinct framework for communication, and rapidly "churn" ideas. It's a natural formation. On the other hand, if they have to deal with hundreds of people commenting and cross-posting, they can't really advance nearly as fast. Even if the commenters are posting intelligently, there's just no "teamwork".

But once an idea has been "churned", it needs to go somewhere. These don't. Someone will post something interesting, a circle will develop it into some kind of miniature phenominon, then it dies with a whimper. That's total inefficiency.

What I would think we should do is: I think we should create a "map" of the blogosphere, based on who comments on whose entries. Then, we would simply encourage people to dip into very "disperse" circles that interest them, hence creating tenuous lines of connection which would allow the cream of the crop to migrate via these links from one circle to another. Of course, until a cross-connection is established by the commentees, the commenter(s) are in a wholly different, one-way connected piece of topology... so it is a little complex, but doable.

It's sort of like a reverse Google. Instead of pointing to the most popular sites, it points to active sites which are UNPOPULAR (or, at least, unconnected). With a ratings system and a link-map, both individual sites and circles can be isolated and avoided if they suck.

The thing is, this doesn't require some awesome integrated tool of doom. It just requires an HTML parser. Track who links where, and how often these sites update. An RSS feed would probably be easiest, trying to sign up for any site which is linked to. Cruise the sites, continually harvesting links, and build your topology. You can even watch as memes migrate through the circle by seeing links to non-blogs.

That would be wicked cool. If anyone knows how that could be accomplished, I would definitely try to do it.

Add-on tool: we can track who you work "most" with based on commentary and response. In turn, we can track who is on your "team". In turn, we can track "team players" and rate commenters on how likely they are to be saying something meaningful.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Podcasts

I don't know if you listen to any podcasts. I don't, but I still get one or another occasionally, sort of like every drinker should occasionally order "whatever will get me drunkest, cheapest".

Every pod cast I've heard has been dictated by the same person.

Now, I don't mean I only have downloaded podcasts from one site. I've gotten podcasts from as far afield as "Gaming Steve" to "Zug". But they're all by the SAME PERSON. This white, male, nasal voice grinding across my various ear bits. This voice which makes me want to reach out and slap someone.

Why is this? Am I just unlucky, or does EVERYONE sound exactly like an antisocial fourteen-year-old?

I think that maybe it has to do with the shitty quality. This stuff is cheap, cheap, cheap! You can download it TEN TIMES faster than you can listen to it. It sounds like it's coming out of a long metal tube placed against a speaker phone.

Maybe the compression cuts out the low bands. All the rumble. That's the stuff that matters for getting tonal quality. If it does that, then everyone in a given register would sound pretty much the same. So, I'm thinking that might be it.

I'm tempted to make one myself, just to see whether I sound exactly like they sound. I wouldn't be surprised, given that I'm just as much of a stereotypical white geek-boy. But MY voice has been called many things in the past, and none of them have been negative. Except one person who said I couldn't sing. But he probably said that to Sinatra, too.

Unfortunately, the only microphone I have is the one that comes with the computer. You have to artificially pump the gain on the thing, which results in this awesome catalogue of background sound effects. Hear that? That's my computer's fan. Oooh, and that's the everpresent squeeeeeek of Seattle's collective attempt to annihilate their brake pads. That blip-zip-caaassssh sound isn't a modem, it's just line noise.

While it might be interesting to simply record and remix the background noise into a new rave tune, I doubt my voice would really come through very well. It sounds muffled, like I'm trying to speak through someone's armpit. Maybe I should give up on that particular practice, but it's kind of fun. And I usually get to choose whose armpit, so it's all good.

Anyhow: Podcasts. All sound the same? Does anyone like listening to people when you can't hear their tonality? I seek answers!

Just when you thought you were safe...

A lot of movies like doing the whole "Just when you thought you were safe... it attacks!" and "childhood monsters were real" crap. I thought I'd get on board.



Work progresses. Such is life.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Analysis of Linguistic Failure

In my life, I have spent many hundreds of hours defining new languages, logics, and even maths in an attempt to get something which would allow me to perform specific untractable problems. My common focus was on making systems which could be executed by computer, with a few very notable exceptions.

It is not overstatement to say I have made literally hundreds of new almost-languages, almost-logics, and/or almost-maths. But these are invariably incomplete, largely because I'm not nearly as smart as I think I am.

Two things fascinate me when it comes to these things, and most of my systems deal with either one, the other, or both. The first thing which fascinates me is patterns. Pattern recognition on any meaningful level is almost impossible for anything which isn't a biological brain. It's probably almost impossible for a biological brain, too, but we just through a lot of firepower at it. Many times, I've tried to come up with a language which either contains or explains patterns such that it is, in itself, the pattern recognition system. No luck as of yet.

The other thing which fascinates me is logical fallacies. There are some really bizarre tidbits out there - chinks in the armor of math and logic which reveal that the whole thing is just crazy-glued together. The easiest example would be simple paradox, something like "this sentence is false". I'm not sure if anyone has come up with a useful system in which such things can be said without causing logical fault. I've never seen one outside of my own extremely limited attempts.

My early attempts were what I call "linear" attempts. They were unable to reference "backwards", including themselves. While this did eliminate most of the paradoxes, it was totally unsuitable for... well, anything. Unfortunately, later attempts to make nonlinear systems have been largely unsuccessful. My only successes on this front have been related to forced uncertainty and partitioning. Which are moderately interesting - I might go into them at some point, especially partitioning - but they don't really allow for useful pattern recognition. They also have many of the same logic holes that common languages and maths do, although they solve certain problems and allow for some pretty interesting computer-driven analysis.

My most recent attempt is the self-modifying logic set, which is really just an upgraded version of the uncertainty ideas I had. It occurred to me as I was writing self-modifying PHP that there was no real reason to keep statements set in stone - the only reason we think like that is because of the prevalence of the written word. Assuming I don't come back and change this paragraph, it will always be the same, regardless of who reads it. But that's not really the case, and that's not really something that needs to be kept.

For example, if I say "nuns are evil", people will interpret that in many different ways, depending on their various religious ideals and what they think of me. The language doesn't matter at all. I could say "la nunna es loco", or whatever it actually is in whatever language I'm butchering, and I would get largely the same response, albeit from a whole bunch of people whose commentary I can't understand.

Originally, I just assumed that was a glitch in the actual grammatical rules inherent in romance languages. Having looked into many decidedly unromantic languages, all their grammatical rules allow for the exact same flaws. Obviously, if no language, logic, or math has as of yet varied even a SMIDGE as to which kinds of flaws it allows, it's a bit unlikely I can create something which solves these problems working from the same basis.

What I want is a language PROCESSING algorithm - something like the strip of fat in our heads that is telling you that I'm talking about brains when I say "the strip of fat in our heads".

Unfortunately, I've been there, too. If you wish to picture that field in your head, it looks a lot like a popular sporting event right after the home team wins the big game. Well, it looks like that if you also light the stadium on FIRE.

There's literally thousands of brilliant people - and tens of thousands of not-so-brilliant people - working on that problem. Some call themselves computer scientists, some call themselves "cog sci", some call themselves space cowboys. They all share one thing: a deep frustration at their continued abject failure.

Which, I'm sure you'll agree, does not bode well for our hero's chances should he enter such a place.

Meh. Onward! Fat will fry!

Four Days of Random Crap!

This post has nothing useful in it.

Those of you who know me may know that both caffeine withdrawal and sunburns make me sleepy. Yesterday, I had both. Yesterday, I spent virtually every horizontal moment sleeping. That was a lot of moments.



So, as you can see, my work wasn't exactly up to snuff. I was very tired, so excuse the poorness of the drawings. I also had some very strange dreams about a boy with a satchel full of invulnerable dishware.



That has nothing to do with my dream, but I'm not entirely sure I was awake while doodling it.

In case you didn't notice, I got a new flash drive, so now I can once again regale you with terrible sketches!

Some of you may have heard that we here in Seattle had a bit of a tiff outside the federal courthouse. A man with a "dud" hand grenade (read: "fake") was shot and killed. The man had a cutting board in his backback, which was strapped to his chest - evidently, he thought this would protect him from bullet wounds.

He was a known whack-job. I'm totally fine with him being shot and killed, but the moment someone says this is a reason to upgrade the security of our government centers, I smack them upside the head.

The reason I mention this is because it happened across the street from me. If I had been alert, I would have been able to walk over to our window and look down over it. Point of fact, it happened within an hour of me having a relaxing decaf coffee with a work buddy at a table five meters from the shootout location.

That makes me all sortsa special, don't it?

On Sunday, I had the fun experience of having a sunroof suddenly break, getting sucked piece by piece out the roof and into our wake. That makes me even more special!

I'm just a special kinda guy, I suppose.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Fighting Game Review

Okay, so I filled four pages with musings about the SFS. Here's something a bit more lighthearted. On Friday, I picked up two fighting games. The first was Capcom: Fighting Evolution. Like all Capcom games, it's a crossover. The other game I picked up was Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus. Both games were cheap.

Tao Feng was a sad game. The game obviously had a lot of effort put into it. It was a very pretty game. The writing was fun, if bad. The fighting was meh. So the game should have been meh, right? Wrong. The game SUCKED. Why?

Okay, I have NEVER seen a fighting game where the camera is bad. It's a SOLVED PROBLEM. Why is it that Tao Feng has a camera more painful than the camera in Resident Evil? Suddenly and without warning, the camera will instantly FLIP so that you're portrayed on the other side of the screen. If you were pressing "back", like you have to in order to BLOCK, you're suddenly charging straight at the enemy!

This happens, in general, four or more times in a fight. What were they thinking? Who knows? Without that horrible, horrible part, the game would probably be... meh.

A lesson to learn for your fighting game: imagine using a given maneuver on random people on the street. Could they avoid it? If so, it shouldn't be IN YOUR GAME. This goes double for "combos", which are a bad idea in the first place, but an exceptionally bad idea when a nine hit combo takes more than five seconds, most of which are spent looking at the injured party politely standing there and REFUSING TO BLOCK. Or... step backwards. Or fall over on purpose.

Now, the funny thing was that I also played the Capcom game. I'm not exactly an expert - I'm good at a lot of fighting games, but the SNK/Capcom/Mortal Kombat breeds always elude me. This is no exception - I can't even beat arcade mode. How sad is that? Still, it's fun.

But I can't GO anywhere. I can't beat arcade mode, so there's really no interest in playing. I actually played Tao Feng more, even though it was absolutely terrible in comparison, because it had a definite ending which could be reached, albeit after many camera flips and much cheeze.

Lesson two: if your players can't accomplish anything, it doesn't matter how good your game is, it isn't getting played.

I also saw "The Hotel Rwanda", which was a good movie.

WPI SFS 3: Nowhere to Go

Read chronologically. This is part three.

Mike failed, even when he succeeded, for one simple reason: the generations in the SFS are, on average, four years long. Like any line of kings, Mike needs his successors to be able to continue the good and powerful government. Unlike any other line of kings, his successors frequently come every other year! Within ten years, his reign will be all but forgotten, his works lost to the sands of time.

In other words, there’s no staying power.

Worse, the things he used to gain power in the first place are fading. Undocumented Features, the legend which actually drew people into WPI specifically to become Wedge Rats, is fading. Not that the actual writing is fading, or even that the universe doesn’t continue to grow. But the universe no longer has anything to do with wedging, or even with college. It is rapidly becoming not applicable to WPI.

The ancients only stay in Worcester for so long. With few exceptions, most people are out of Worcester by the age of twenty six or twenty seven. So, while the Geeks Emeritus do extend the life cycle, they don’t last forever… and the current waves of elders are the GOTHS. That’s not going to help the SFS any. Also, the popping internet bubble drove many of them out, so our ancient population is lower than it should be.

The fur which Mike was kind enough to add – stories of the past – are by and large weak. This is because Mike stuck to reality. While they add to the value of the SFS if you are already an interested member, they won’t actually attract newcomers.

Even the socializing is ephemeral – how long until they close the wedge entirely, and geeks are left with no place to spend their late Fridays and early Saturdays gaming? And, if the student population continues further down the road of digitalization, nobody will have ANY interest in board and card gaming. Painfully, one of our major draws was Magic, the Gathering. Which was already dying then and is probably slated to have its thread cut within a year or two. With reduced draw to the Fridays, even if they continue to be possible, eventually we won’t have enough reaction mass.

Perhaps the most fatal blow to the SFS is that WPI is drawing a stupider crowd. Not more stupid. Stupider. Each year WPI ads are directed closer and closer to the lowest common denominator as they strive to shoot themselves in the foot as fast as possible. There are simply fewer SFS-worthy geeks to choose from.

No, I take that back. The most fatal blow is the administration, which hates the SFS with a passion and continues to make more and more short-sighted rules that make life impossible. Back in the old days, there were a lot of places geeks could gather and have a relatively good time. The wedge was three times the size it is now. Founders basement didn’t have a mandatory lockdown. There was no ‘closing time’ on the primary meeting place. There were labs and gweeperies. All gone. Now a geek’s only real choice is his room, with his computer. That’s pretty sad, and pretty destructive.

Either way, the end result is clear: the SFS could be in for a rocky road.

How can the SFS survive? I’m not entirely sure, but even more fervent socializing and event-holding couldn’t hurt. A new short larp each week? Great idea! New legends on the scale of Undocumented Features, but about the SFS. SFS-specific games and larps of uncommon quality.

But with the environment steadily growing more barren, I do worry for their future.

WPI SFS 2: Electric Bugaloo

Read chronologically. This is part two.

When I arrived at WPI, the SFS was... not the same. I don't know if it was notably smaller than the SFS of the future, but it had lower attendance and no real enthusiasm. It was in the righteous era of the Goth, and some 90% of the games (LARP and tabletop) were Whitewolf-themed. It was painful. I skipped it for two years, and when I finally came back, that era was just beginning to die. And good riddance!

The backlash against the growing pessimism of the Whitewolf leaders led to the election of the most energetic and cheerful president the SFS has EVER KNOWN, I’m sure. But first, I’m going to discuss SFS policy of the old era.

The SFS hosts ‘events’. The primary events they host are AnimeFest and two Gaming Weekends. These are excessively fun. They also allow basically anyone to get up on the podium and announce their wacky game idea. In short, they act as a community center through which the whole game-geek culture can advertise.

The SFS has an extremely high (essentially 1-1) overlap with the group known as “wedge rats”, which are people who spend way too much time hanging out in the college’s common area, chatting, eating, and generally geeking out. It’s a very fun past time, even if the name is now outdated due to the ascension of the campus center and the ‘octagon’, which serves the same purpose.

However, this overlap was largely unofficial, and wedging rarely made it into the SFS’ “official” lineup, save for an occasional “meet in the wedge to discuss” or whatnot. The SFS kept itself largely restrained to organizer and occasional host.

That changed when Mike hit the stage. Mike was a huge fan of the “old legends” (they can be found at eyrie.net) and the “ancients” who continued to interact with the SFS, such as Uncle Don, Android, Noah, etc. He was young and Eager when elected, so he had no particular respect for the sloth and inertia of the old ways, and immediately scrapped and replaced them. The SFS even had a “no humor” policy. Defenestrated!

He kept the old core, but he added to it. Ads were made for both gaming weekend and Animefest, for example. The cards and teeshirts that the SFS regularly made were fronted with more vigor, creating more of a sense of community involvement. He actively sought out elders and encouraged the running of games (which would, of course, be touted at meetings).

But the biggest change he backed was gaming Friday. I don’t remember who originally came up with this idea, but probably someone who lamented the rise of the octagon and the fall of the wedge. It was essentially a miniature gaming weekend. Every week. Acting as both advertisement and social gathering, it was a stroke of genius. Generally, between ten and twenty people would show up, eager to play any game which floated their way. Except, unfortunately, Apples to Apples. Still, much gaming was had, and I’m sure we gained many recruits that way.

The SFS grew. I’m not sure if we actually gained an unusually high number of members, but we definitely gained unusually ENTHUSIASTIC members. Why? What made the SFS so incredibly fun?

The answer was clear to me before I even started researching: the socializing.

When I started researching, I found way more behind the scenes. The socializing was part of it, but the SFS itself followed the classic “cult methodology”, of which socializing is only a part.

A cult offers advantages. Linux geeks can talk for hours about the advantages of Linux, and the same applies to Apple geeks. Frats offer parties and housing, religions offer succor and stability – they all have that in common. The SFS didn’t offer a whole lot of advantages – just the three major events – which is why the SFS never really gained a ‘cult’ status in my mind. Most of their events were pretty divorced from the actual SFS structure, so they felt unrelated, even though they were technically “hosted by the SFS”.

A cult offers isolation in addition to its socialization. Think of it like this: you’re a drop of water who wants to become vapor. If you stay in the lake, the top layer will become vapor bit by bit, and if you’re lucky, you’ll be part of it. However, as soon as someone puts that water in a pot, it can be boiled and your chances of becoming vapor are much higher. You really can’t reasonably boil a LAKE.

Most cults offer isolation by superiority: we ride Harleys, we’re Bad Boys. Take your tweed and shove it! Linux users are inherently superior to Windows users – the fools! Religions know that the rest of the world is, at best, misguided… and more probably, evil and doomed!

The SFS did offer this. A cauldron of geekhood, reveling in games and Babylon 5. I doubt anyone in there didn’t feel superior to the jocks and airheads that was The Rest of the World.

A successful cult prospers through its socializing. People talk to people, both inside the cult and outside the cult. The cult grows stronger both by growing larger and growing more devoted. The social events the SFS hosted allowed this.

But in addition to that – and this is something you won’t find anywhere else – a successful cult is about PERCEIVED INTERACTION and PERCEIVED STABILITY.

The difference between a generic brand and a brand which is considered a cult brand isn’t popularity. It’s whether you’re performing a one-way transaction or a two-way transaction. A one-way transaction either way requires no dedication or fervor. It doesn’t matter how dedicated or fervent you are, the transaction won’t change any.

That’s why everyone hates the government. They take and take, but never ask us what we want. On the other hand, Linux and other religions offer interactivity. You get a product, perhaps, but it’s not just buy it and move on, like most brands. You buy the product, and the product works for you. It distinguishes you, strengthens you, and often asks for your feedback.

The SFS did a lot of this. We voted on which anime to see. We voted on what nicknames to use for our officers. We got to submit ideas as to what we should blow the last of our budget on every year. The SFS was pretty strongly interactive.

But it wasn’t a cult. Why? Because it had no PERCEIVED STABILITY.

Stability is like a cat. There’s flesh and bone – that’s the actual stability. That is gained by having actually been around a while without undue fluctuation. But the cat also has fur. A large cat with short fur looks the same size as a small cat with long fur. That fur is perception.

The SFS had no fur. It wasn’t even a very large cat, since it had been fluctuating pretty badly in the previous years, thanks to the Cult of Goth.

On the other hand, Wedging had very, very long fur. In addition to legends (whose influence cannot be overstated), it had living elders.

As Mike meandered through his time in office, he CREATED fur for the SFS. I don’t know if he did this on purpose or not, but one of the things he pursued with a passion was SFS history. He tracked down elders, he wrote up bits about how the library was once stored under someone’s bed, and how the SFS once sponsored an actual anime convention (disastrous!). He gave the SFS fur.

He also tried valiantly to combine it further with the idea of Wedging. Virtually every meeting ended with “meet me in the wedge/octagon”, and virtually every meeting BEGAN with “okay, enough wedging, let’s go over to the room and start the meeting.”

Mike was striving, without knowing it, to strengthen the power of the SFS.

And he succeeded. But, like so many emperors before him, he failed.

WPI SFS

I miss college.

No, that's not quite right. College was irritating and a waste of time and money. Sorry, mom.

I miss being IN college. I miss hanging out with the SFS. Sure, I miss my friends, but I miss hanging out in the wedge or octagon even more.

This got me thinking. And when I start thinking, I start doing research. So I read up on clubs, then communities, then cults. I came to a simple conclusion.

Save for a few small details, the WPI SFS was a cult.

That's not bad, really. There were at least three religious cults operating in WPI while I was there, and I'm sure my oblivious self wasn't aware of several more. None of them were evil, irritating, or dangerous in any way. That, of course, doesn't mention the many other cults such as successful frats, Apple owners, Harley owners, Linux nuts, otaku, goths, and all of the other communities which inspire such fanatical devotion.

The SFS didn't really inspire fanatical devotion openly. But it did a lot of really incredible things which made it hella fun. In the next few posts, I will outline the methods the SFS took to make being in it so much fun, and point out the weaknesses and limits they caused by not really understanding what they were doing.

The Science Fiction Society at WPI peaked during my stay. Not because of me, but during my stay, nevertheless. Before my stay, it was underpopulated, back to the early years of the nineties. I've heard that it is beginning to fade again, now that I am gone. Again, not BECAUSE I am gone, just at the same time.

In fact, if I had to pin the blame on one person for the success of the SFS, it would be two-time president Mike Wixon. Mike was smart, friendly, and fun... but that's not why the SFS succeeded. It succeeded because Mike was a natural-born socialite, and when he ascended to presidency, he backed any and all attempts to be social.

But first I'll explain what the policies and activities were like before him. That way, we can clearly see what the changes he backed wrought.

Also, it is a little unfair to say "Mike did it". Many of the ideas and fervor were not Mike's. Noah, for example, caused untold socializing. But Mike always backed others to the hilt, so he both took advantage of and caused further burgeoning of social ideas.

Before I start: Why am I focusing on social stuff? Social stuff is the core of every successful cult. Read on, and see my theories! They're full of nouget.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Soaps and Marketing

I found Seth Godin's blog. Seth is smart, funny, and thinks about marketing. I've read his books, and although I can't say they've convinced me he's right, they've certainly made me think about marketing in a new light. I certainly consider his ideas plausible.

Update: I now believe his ideas are correct. I will be sending him the following letter:

Dear Mr. Godin,

Here in downtown Seattle there is a hole-in-the-wall specialty soap shop in a not-particularly-good position on sixth street.

The owner, Charlene, promised herself she would run no print ads for a year – just to see if she could do without the hassle and cost.

I don’t think she’ll ever need to run a print ad. She’s been, without knowing it, following your advice.

Running Wild Spirit is a charming little shop with a pleasant layout and a monster-footed bathtub filled with fake bubbles and bath toys. She runs it entirely by word of mouth, and what with her free soap samples and genial nature, her customer base has been steadily growing for months.

But very recently she has made an addition to her shop staff. A small bubble machine. She places it just outside the door.

Sales are skyrocketing. She estimates that just having the machine has doubled her sales on those days. When the machine is down, her sales drop.

A bubble machine would probably always draw foot traffic and increase sales – at least, until they are banned as public nuisances – but the strength of her store lies not just in the bubble machine, but in the synergy of her presentation. The bubble machine, the charming little store, the bathtub, the free soap samples, and the cheerful demeanor have created a very devoted following.

I have no particular need of specialty soaps.

But I think I’m going to buy some.

If anyone doubts the ideas of ‘added value’, ‘purple cows’, and ‘telling a story’, you can send them to Seattle to see it in action.

The funny thing was, until literally an hour ago, I didn’t know whether to believe in your approaches. They seemed too sparkly-clean and na├»ve. Now I definitely believe.

-Craig Perko

On-Line Autism

I'm sure this analogy has been made before. If you've heard it before, I'd appreciate you telling me where.

Over the past week, I've been talking a lot on the IGDA forums about the culture of being in a MMORPG. In general, I've been thinking about the way that not having body language or vocal tone influences our on-line culture, especially in video games.

Recently, I've also been reading up on autism. I'm not an expert, so feel free to correct me on any details.

One of the major symptoms of autism is a very reduced ability to read faces and body language. Essentially, this is something that everyone on-line is ALSO suffering from. You cannot see my face, you cannot hear my voice. I might be 'writing' all of this with a stodgy British accent, or maybe I'm wearing a clown nose. In person, that would dramatically change how you perceived this essay. On-line, nothing.

Because of their inability, it is common for those suffering autism to focus more on what we consider 'details' - jewelry, background decoration, disorganization. This is also common inside on-line game worlds.

Although I'm not at ALL saying the two situations are equivalent, they may have some of the same results. Let's see.

Autism often has components of oversensitivity/undersensitivity to stimuli, learning difficulties, inability to calm self, difficulty going from one situation to another, being easily distracted/lacking attention control, physical clumsiness, unusually high or low activity level, social/emotional problems, poor body awareness, difficulty learning new movements, delays in speech and language skills, impulsive behavior/lack of self control, and repetitious movements. Thanks, Wikipedia!

Let's compare that to players as they play their on-line characters.

I don't know about their sensitivity to stimuli - I'd have to do research - but one of the primary duties of a game designer is to create stimuli which cause extremely high or low sensitivity. I would think that this reflects on a clear need by the players to have stimuli more carefully demarked than it is in real life.

Learning difficulty may or may not be a factor, but to me it seems that most of the players in an on-line game don’t learn anything save the most rudimentary game tactics – even though there is a lot of advanced stuff out there they can master. Still, that’s, again, something which would need research. I don’t, however, think they have problems going from one situation to another.

Players definitely have a hard time calming themselves and almost always have a distinct lack of self control. They also seem to have a total inability to focus on some things, and a total inability to STOP focusing on others. They DEFINITELY have either unusually high or low activity levels, and they DEFINITELY have some rather serious social/emotional disorders. Speech and language skills are very definitely stunted. Repetition? You bet!

The CHARACTERS are clumsy, have poor body awareness, and difficulty learning new movements.

That means that, out of that long list of things autism causes (or results from), only ONE is unlikely, TWO need further study, THREE (or four) are directly reflected in the game design itself, and EIGHT or NINE are VERY SIMILAR.

Viewing it from another perspective: there’s a whole crap-ton of similarities between how autism makes people act and how being in an on-line game makes people act. The differences can easily be attributed to the actual physical damage in the brain, while the similarities can easily be attributed to the social situation caused by inability to perceive the emotions of others.

I think these situations are passably similar, and that research could be cross-combined. I wonder if what they do to 'treat' autism can be used to 'treat' the anonymity disorder?

I wonder if people with autism like playing MMORPGs? I wonder if our coping mechanisms - smilies, exclamation points, etc - are coping mechanisms they benefit from as well.

But, this is an arm-chair theory.

Flow

I've got a lot of things I want to talk about today. Even without an audience, just prattling seems to clear my mind. An hour after every post, I think, "Man, I was DUMB in that post! I meant X and Y! I should have written Z!"

However, for some reason, writing it and keeping it to myself doesn't cause this same reaction. I guess it's something about committing your words to 'peer review', even if there's no review, which makes your mind dwell on them. So I'll keep posting here, and I won't delete my iffy stuff for a long time.

Right now, I'd like to mention "flow". A lot of game designers are looking to make players 'lose track of time' or 'forget reality' or 'be totally immersed'. An equal number seem to say, "You keep using those words. I do not think they mean what you think they mean."

"Flow" is, in case you're unaware, a concept we inhereted from more serious entertainment industries, most notably sports. It is a recognized fact that when people are doing something they are good at in the right situation, they really get very focused, their skill dramatically improves, and they stop caring about things outside their current activity. They call this "flow".

Here's the key game designers seem to miss:

"Flow" needs skill!

Flow ONLY happens when you are excersizing a SKILL. There may be another, related concept involving getting lost in a narrative, but for most purposes, flow needs skill. Which means STOP MAKING EASY GAMES.

Your game needs to have a graceful learning curve and needs to let the player play at his highest skill level. If you do this, you'll probably have players who go 'into the zone'... and NOTHING is a more powerful game-driven sensation.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Apple is as Apple Does

Honestly, I haven't used an Apple in a decade. No iAnything. But most everyone I've met who has HAD an Apple has been more than willing to say good things about Apple, and they all seemed to be huge Apple fans.

Now, peering through the dense web of inter, I find that this is a widespread phenominon. There are a HUGE number of extremely vocal, enthusiastic Apple fans.

Frankly, when I think about it, it starts to get a bit odd. The dynamics aren't... quite... right.

I would say at least 10% of Apple customers are literally proud owners of their various iGadgets. Probably closer to 30%. This is higher than almost ANY brand in ANY industry. Can you think of a product with that kind of success rate?

I can think of a few, but chances are, you haven't heard of the ones I'm thinking of. They're the sort of places that don't need to advertise. They live entirely off of word of mouth and viral marketing.

Apple does not. Apple runs ads. Lots of 'em.

So, why the hell is Apple still tagging in at such a small market share? If 30% of the people who read this blog actively went out and told their buddies how cool it was, I would probably be pushing 100,000 unique repeat visitors in a matter of weeks. Assuming I lived up to the hype. Blogs aren't a good example, because you're likely to visit fifty blogs, but not to buy fifty different brands of computer/MP3 player. But the basic concept is sound: viral marketing combined with a great product usually work WONDERS.

So, what's going on? Why isn't Apple exploding? Here are some possibilities, but I value input.

1) Apple IS exploding. It's poised to take over the industry, but nobody knows it yet. In that case, you go, Apple!

2) Apple fans aren't evangelizing - they're loyal, but not drawing in new customers. In that case, Apple needs to institute some kind of 'hook a friend on Apple' shout-out.

3) Apple's advertising is INTERFERING with their evangelists by weakening the exclusive feeling of owning an Apple product. In that case, they need to cut back on the adverts or alter them to make their products seem high-class.

Those are the three most likely ideas I can see. It's interesting - I've never seen another brand quite like this. Loyal customers, but not GETTING anywhere.

Version Six

Version Six is now officially FRONT BURNER.

In case you aren't aware what I do for a living, I write a piece of software which migrates, organizes, and controls databases (and anything else you need organized, I suppose). All you need to access it is a web browser.

Version Five takes an hour or two to create any given slick interface page. Currently, it is being used for schedule management pretty much in its entirety, but that's circumstance rather than an inherent limitation.

Version Six will theoretically allow you to do quite a bit more without ever needing to delve into PHP code, which will be handy. In addition to being significantly easier to make pages and adjust the database, Version Six also has some pretty slick automation. I say "has" rather than "will have", because I'm actually pretty close to having it operational.

I just don't know what to call it. At present I call it the 'Heap Manager', but that's a pretty shabby name. Maybe I'll just call it 'Perk 6' or something.

Applied Macro-Quantum Physics

Quantum physics isn't hard to understand, really. Think of it like this: everybody has a lot of different potentials. Five years from now, you could be drinking booze from a paper bag and sleeping on the street... or you could be drinking booze from a china cup and sleeping in a pressurized dome. That spread of probability can be considered the vector of your life.

Of course, five years ago, it was fairly likely that I would be rich, famous, and married by this July. Having actually APPROACHED that time, I can say that the probabilities have not gone that way, and it is highly UNLIKELY that I will meet a girl, fall in love, get married, get rich, and get famous in the next two weeks.

That's quantum physics: the closer you get to the probabilities, the more exactly you know where you are as they collapse, but the less of an impression you get as to the vector of your life. Unless, of course, you look into the future... at which point you know the vector, but it's impossible to tell exactly WHERE in that space you'll land. Until you get there, of course.

Okay, so I'm not so much explaining quantum physics as bitching about not being rich, famous, and married to a genius girl. Still, it's a fun parallel to make.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

"Convenience Tax"

Because it's easier for both you AND us, here's a 10% FUCK YOU.

That's what happens when you're dealing with an industry that doesn't need 'quality' or 'service'.

Blogger's Day

Apparently, it's weblogging day. So, uh, spend the whole day goofing off and reading people pour their shallow little hearts out into an uncaring bitstream.

Today, I've got bigger problems.

Arrrgh.

Arrrrrrgh.

Arruuugharrraaarrrgh.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Virtual Overinhabitation

Okay, so my last post had some really out-there theory. This post is going to be a bit closer to reality. Virtual reality, that is.

This and this and this are all from the same site, which is a kind of 'theory lite' site. However, they do highlight an issue I've looked into, and come up with a theory on.

I don't know if the people reading this are familiar with my 'Spiderspace' approach, so I'll cover it quickly, here.

The biggest problem with allowing players to affect the game world is that, of course, they'll affect it in such away to acheive power over other players in the game world. Suddenly, the players can't really affect the game world at all - they are regularly subdued, fleeced, or restrained by those in power.

The problem is population density. If people CAN reach you to interact with you, they WILL reach you to interact with you. And if there are people interacting with you, many of them will be intent on killing you or stealing from you.

To limit this problem, most PWGs limit player interaction such that it's essentially entirely cooperative. While not a BAD idea, that's sort of like putting a band-aid over a bullet wound.

My theoretical approach - I haven't tried this, since I haven't made a game with more than 30 simultaneous players EVER - is simply to give players as much space of their own as they want. This sounds daft - it sounds very hard on the servers, for example - but I'm (A) not talking about computationally expensive space and (B) they can have as much space as they want, except that they can only 'hold' so much space at a time. Players are encouraged to let other players into their space - or at least export goods - by the market dynamics of the game.

I call this approach 'Spiderspace', because when imagined, it looks a little like a spreading web, a lattice of partially and obliquely connected star systems which players wander through. It would quickly form central 'hubs' surrounded by almost invisible ropey 'trails' of stars which are largely disconnected from the hubs by players who want to keep those systems 'safe' from other players.

The methods involved mean that, depending on what I set the metaphysics to, I can make it so that the average player would never encounter more than maybe five or six other players in any given day, unless he actively goes hunting for them. Instead of the vast array of parties running all over, you would have a feeling of real space, and real ownership.

Teamwork then becomes the key, and the power of teamwork with this approach is that it allows you to control more space. If each player has five characters (or five 'control points', or whatever), then the player can only hold, say, four star systems and one fleet. So, obviously, if you want to expand, you'll need to team up with other players to control other fleets. This has some 'ghost account' problems, but nothing game-crippling, I think - especially if you're charging money per account.

I have a bunch of other factors involved, but at its core, the strength of the idea lies in allowing any given player to work on his own empire without being constantly knocked down by those in the lead - while SIMULTANEOUSLY allowing him to interact with the 'public' players for trading and teamwork purposes.

I think it has a lot of promise.

Shadow Barriers

Here is something moderately interesting.

Some of you may have noticed that most of my sociological musings revolve around how many people there are and how they interact. The idea of 'singularity' is very interesting to me, because it essentially says that there are a functionally INFINITE number of people with no communication barrier. How the hell would society manage that?

I've had a few ideas, but most of them revolve around voluntary or semi-voluntary separation. For example, language separation. The fact that I don't speak German really limits my involvement in the German software industry, which is actually a bit of a shame, since there's a bunch of interesting software coming from over there.

When we're talking about languages on-line, you can see some interesting things happening. The young people who dive into a given area of the net rapidly develop a mutant dialect of the language they speak. Their differing experiences are rapidly pushing these dialects further and further from 'normal' communication for one big reason: their society talk is almost entirely limited to what their society is about. If you jump onto a MMORPG forum and compare it to a Linux forum, you'll see radically different dialects. Understanding a good chunk of the posts on either is totally impossible to someone who doesn't 'walk the walk'.

But it ISN'T just a matter of 'drift'! That's important to remember! Sure, there's drift - that's what "leet" really is, a hyperaccelerated linguistic drift. But the big thing about these dialects is their hyperSPECIALIZATION. Because of the lack of ‘real’ boundaries, the societies glom together to focus on a small subset of reality. So focused, they rapidly progress and develop a specialized vocabulary and (occasionally) their own modified rule set.

This has been happening more and more since language began. Doctors always used a specific parlance, for example. Investors, too. Managers developed one a few hundred years ago, as far as I can see. These specialized lingos allow the people to communicate faster and freer and advance their specialization more efficiently… but they ALSO raise barriers against entry! This is amusing to me, because that means that while they raise efficiency, they lower growth rate.

Given that when doctors talk shop, I can’t understand a single thing… and when I talk shop, they can’t, we’re reaching a level of specialization which would have been undreamed of even a century ago.

I expect this to continue. Now, if we imagine that communication and memetic barriers continue to drop, we can expect these wholly intangible and semi-voluntary “shadow barriers” to rise up and keep people separated especially effectively because they will focus their efforts on these communities rather than their school or sports community. This means their dialects will not be moderated and there will be less need for a 'common' language. Moreover, out of the chaos of ten million people talking theory, I expect fully distinct dialects to pop up all talking about THE SAME THING. Just in game design, this has already happened – we talk about play, entrainment, etc, etc.

In the past, these dialects have been recombined by aggressive theorists seeking to conquer new territory or, more likely, new audiences. However, these dialects will begin to pop up more and more often, and in the ‘shadow geography’ of the new linguistics, it will probably be harder to reconcile them. Leading to a ‘shattering’ of a given field’s linguistics. I’ve seen some pretty strong hints of this in both computer science and in psychology – suddenly, two people doing the SAME THING have to spend an hour explaining to each other what they are doing… and when the explanation is done, each thinks the other is a NUT.

Both of them speak a ‘base tongue’. They can communicate with each other – and with the jock on the street – with their ‘common’ language. However, even that is showing stress – although the inner city punk and the white-bread rich kid CAN talk to each other, each has an extremely distinct accent and it’s rare that they have any common ground to talk to each other about. They can THEORETICALLY talk, but it is less and less common that they WILL.

It is an interesting theory, I think, to presume that this drift will continue. In a hundred years, the guys who design space ships will be UNABLE to talk to the sports dudes simply because their languages will have drifted so far apart - and they have no need of a 'common' tongue in day-to-day life. They’ll have to hire translators to negotiate between the various divisions of a corporation, and these translators will be just as bilingual as someone who speaks both French and Italian today.

THAT is how sanity will be kept in the world of singularity, IMO. A semi-voluntary limiting of community: as the communities get too large, their language fractures and specializes, leaving it as at least two distinct, loosely connected entities. Some communities will be larger than others – it depends on whether they are focused more on growing or advancing.

Pretty interesting idea, I think. The end result is a re-shrinking of communities. These days we've had an explosion of users - ten thousand posts to a forum each day? Who could keep up? You can't. The 'shadow geography' of the forum will lead you to read specific posts and ignore others. If the geography affects others similarly, then there are essentially TWO fora operating in the same space, only interacting a little.

A steady exacerbation of 'right hand doesn't know what left hand is doing' will occur. Even now, we have that problem pretty severely, but if this theory holds true, it would be a million times worse. Communication would effectively be 'cut' between people who, today, have little trouble working with each other. Companies would develop their own 'company lingo', and then would have trouble interacting with new customers... unless they happen to know the same 'marketing lingo'.

Hmmmmmmm.

Put another way, how would Babelfish translate "Left Outer Join" so that Joe Shmoe would understand it in 'english'?

Weekend Summary: Lost Disk and Found Sister

I didn't get nearly as much done as I wanted to on this weekend, and I can't even show you screenshots of my new weapons because I lost my flash drive on that Cape Cod weekend.

Also, much of my time was spent with family, as we had a HUGE get together on Sunday. That's always fun, but Sunday evening is my most productive time of the weekend.

So, crap, that's essentially TWO wasted weekends.

Still, progress is being made. Next step: make the current continuous progression into 'levels'. Then I have to figure out some way of making bosses that won't take me ten hours a boss to code.

On the other hand, I MAY be putting the game on back burner to hurry ver. 6 of my database management system. Vers. 4&5 work fine for the company I'm currently with, but I got a lead for another possibility, and I'd like to use ver. 6 for them - it's a much more impressive product with a lot more automation and easy customization.

And there you have it. Really edge-of-your-seat stuff, ain't it?

Friday, June 10, 2005

Free Time

Thinking about my last post (my NEXT post, if you're reading these backwards), I realized something important. Although I talked primarily about education, FREE TIME is the critical part.

Yes, the activists are usually educated people with a fair amount of free time - people who are willing to SPEND their free time on those things.

But the important part is that they HAVE free time to spend.

The only difference between an uneducated person with a lot of free time and an educated person with a lot of free time is that their attempts to gain power go in different directions. To take the worst case scenario, an inner-city person with no education wants to climb the ladder. His choices revolve around gangs, theft, and drugs. A wealthy person's child, the same age, wishes to gain power. HIS choices revolve around activist groups and investment bankers.

Crime and activism are largely a matter of having TOO MUCH TIME ON YOUR HANDS. If you didn't have ten hours a day to spend doing these things, you'd never have enough time to really do anything with them.

But that doesn't mean that having time on your hands is BAD. I have plenty of time on my hands, in certain respects. And I'm not harming anyone - quite the opposite, I would hope.

It's all in where that time can be spent, and what 'prices' are put on it. For me, the things I choose to do - writing on the internet, creating a game - are the 'most effective' ways to spend my time gaining power. To an inner-city kid, the most effective expenditure may be, at least in his opinion, to join a gang.

The situation is complex. We can't simply require people to spend time doing things - that causes all kinds of issues and doesn't solve anything. Our best bet might be to offer 'profitable' ways to spend the free time that these people have... but those offers will often be turned down due to social reasons. Due to peer pressure, an inner-city kid is unlikely to go 'help out at the library'. In addition, the profit must be tangible to them - money and respect are the two big ones, I would imagine. Of course, respect takes time, and if the initial profit is too low, they could back out before the respect comes into play. The other half of the equation - money - is equally difficult in other ways.

It's complex.

If I was creating a blue-sky solution, it would be to reduce the crowding by, say, 90%. Thereby reducing peer pressure. You'll still have some pretty heavy pressures from the community - perhaps even stronger than they were before - but these will still be less than the peer pressure and painfully bad 'giant evil public school' culture.

At that point, it would take relatively little outside pressure to sway a culture. Moreover, if you split that culture up and mix it with other cultures, the cultural pressure drops dramatically. That is probably not a wise idea, given the rather hideous successes in splitting cultures up in the past. Still, what I am suggesting is definitely cultural modification - expensive cultural modification, too.

But it's all just blue sky. Never going to happen. I'm just... pointing it out.

A more realistic thing to do would be to teach APPLICABLE skills. The tests in schools shouldn't be so much 'multiple choice' or 'fill in the blank' as much as 'create this thing of value'. Something they can SEE has value.

I'm not talking word problems. From the age of eight, these kids should be able to go home, hold up something, and say, "THIS is what I learned in class." Whether that's something physical, like a birdhouse, or whether it's mental, like a song or a memo. Something that is of value to SOMEONE. I don’t care if they’ve read The Illiad, and neither do they – so long as they can WRITE. I don’t care if they know the eight hundred different methods of solving for ‘X’ so long as they can BALANCE A BUDGET.

Having these capabilities will open doors where there were none before. The old doors will close.

The problem is that, like religions, society has only a certain amount of room for nonlaborers. Every year that rises, but every year we still need factory workers, burger guys, etc. But… it would IMPROVE things.

Bottom of the World, Ma!

Purpose today: to continue on my crackpot theories of cultural psychology.

You might remember, if you read it, this post on why people have ideals.

I have an abiding interest in 'applied cultural psychology'. Well, as applied as 'ivory tower' gets. One of my interests is terrorism - why people do it, how often they do it, under what situations they do it. The first thing you notice if you look into terrorism is that it's almost entirely local. In fact, it's SO local that a middle-eastern terrorist attacking, say, the United States, is the kind of thing which simply doesn't happen. Terrorists don't operate on that kind of scope. There is only one event I've found - 9/11 - which is on that kind of scope, so for the moment I'll count it as a solitary outlier.

It got me thinking: why are terrorists always LOCAL? I read this essay (warning, even longer and drier than me). It brought up a lot of interesting points.

Why are terrorists local, and why are they from the "middle class" (or better)? And what does that have to do with my 'achiever' stuff?

If you're a cunning reader, you will notice that at one point I said: "This is because they are on the bottom. (Or they have a lot of free time, which in many ways amounts to the same thing.)" And, if you were paying attention, you probably thought, "is he on crack?"

The basic concept I DIDN'T elaborate on, as it was outside the scope of my essay, was what the hell I was talking about with that line. I will talk about it a little here, and tie it in with some of the weirder parts of humanity.

What are three of the major types of people who try to change the world with their idealism? College students are a HUGE percentage of the people who try to get equal rights, or stop wars, or fight abortion. As are housewives. The third faction is the religious.

What do these three groups have in common? They THINK they know how things work, but they haven't yet been involved closely enough to know that they are wrong. They are EDUCATED - perhaps not in a scientific manner, but still educated - but NAIVE.

Is education the part which causes the problem? Of course not. After all, housewives, college students, and the highly religious have three different educations which teach wholly different facts. People can have more than one education, of course: housewives can be both highly religious and college graduates. I know a few. Furthermore, other kinds of education - such as mathematics - DON'T seem to have any correlation to being an activist (at least at first glance).

This is all highly unscientific - I haven't made a scientific study of it. But if you've ever looked at a protesting crowd, it's made up of two or three of those types of people, almost exclusively.

Why?

Because you can be an idealist only if you are on the bottom of your world AND CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. (This, of course, is largely determined by how much free time you have, as well as your skills.)

Uneducated folk are often on the bottom of their world: they get paid shit and worked like dogs. But they really can't do anything about it. When you get an education, doors, both figuratively and quite literally, open for you. You can go up. You can reach the top.

HOW is the important part. If you're a chemical engineer, how are you going to climb the ladder? By getting a high-paying chemical engineering job and inventing a pizza sauce that eats through walls. If you're a business manager, how are you going to climb the ladder? By manufacturing and selling Tickle-me-Elmo dolls.

If you're religious, how are you going to climb the ladder? The only jobs in a religion are the priesty-type-folk, and you don't need more than, say, 2-3% of your religious population being priesty-type-folk. The rest need to DONATE. So if you want to climb a religious ladder, your only option - whether you acknowledge it or not - is to expand your religion or prove your worth. If your religion is full of people dedicated soley to it, you'll have an overflow and you'll get either missionaries or terrorists.

If you're a mom, how are you going to climb the ladder? The only way is to give your children every advantage or to make other moms follow you around. Both of those involve petitioning the people in power to treat your children better.

If you're a liberal arts student, how do you climb the ladder? Like religions, there is space for some to hold power and be critiques, writers, artists, etc. But the majority of them have to turn to other kinds of power - and the default is rabble-rousing and/or convincing the government to give you more power.

In theory, the uneducated would also turn to rabble-rousing, but in practice, they just aren't very good at it. You have to learn to talk, learn to argue, learn to organize people into groups of protesters.

MY theory is - and to a large extent, has always been - educate people scientifically. I'm all for art - I'm a freaking artist, after all - but if you cannot create something of OBJECTIVE VALUE, you have to turn to SUBJECTIVE methods of gaining power. Which, in turn, leads directly towards rabble-rousing of all kinds.

You want less terrorism? My suggestion: force schools to teach science, computers, advanced machining - anything that lets the student create things of objective value.

Nobody is going to listen to me, of course - I'm just fronting a total ivory-tower suggestion. If they DO do this, it won't be because of my post. But I can at least say I had my finger in the pie.

"But, why are terrorists local?"

Because you only want to gain power over the world you can sense. I can sense the whole of the internet spanning out before me. They can only sense their city or, at most, their country. Thoughts of damaging another country would be limited to countries which have an open influence on them AND on their method of gaining power AND are an efficient target.

The United States MAY become threatened, but only if their local world has been essentially settled. It's a matter of efficiency: it costs a lot of money to bomb us over here, and they could do FIFTY bombs for the same price over there. If they start RUNNING OUT of terrorists, they would no longer be terrorists, but priests.

"Er, what was that bit about education, again?"

The educated folk simply 'sense' the social world around them better. Unwilling (or unable) to settle for a factory job, they look for methods of power that uneducated folk wouldn't ever conceive of. Rabble-rousing. Because they don't have time-expensive jobs, they can actively persue these methods of gaining power.

Patents!

I've come up with a number of good patent ideas I think I should apply for!

"Automatically simulating the alteration of vector velocity based on space-time distortion." I think that's a good one! I could sue everyone who's ever put a HILL in their game!

"Simulating wrinkles and drapery in cloth via approximate 2D animation." That covers the sprite games... and anything Disney has ever done.

"Distorting gameplay mechanics by altering player-avatar characteristics" is good for any game with power-ups!

Anyone else got any 'good' ideas for patents?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Kicking Ass and Chewing Bubblegum: Both Fun?

(It's a fourth post! Arrrgh! Well, the first two were pretty meaningless, so... um... yeah, they only count as half a post each.)

When you look into fun, you'll find a thousand people giving ten thousand different definitions. Are there eight kinds of fun? Twenty one? Four? Is fun an autonomic reflex attempting to restore the brain to regular neural pulsing? A pattern-learning system? An attempt to prove mastery?

In regards to what I'm doing, there ARE different kinds of fun. But these are not defined by what you do to make the player feel them. They are defined by what the player feels.

In many ways, this is similar to the four kinds of fun proposed by Nicole Lazzaro/XEODesign. Okay, so she technically proposes twelve 'models of player experience', but apparently these boil down to the following kinds of fun:

Hard fun, easy fun, altered states, and 'the people factor'. These, in turn, boil down to applying the brain's basic pattern recognition systems towards different ends.

Hard fun deploys them against obstacles and rewards them with last post's "Woot, I'm the man!" reward. Easy fun deploys them against terrain - not obstacles, but spaces of wide variation. This is generally the exploration, 'what comes next' approach to a game. Altered states deploys pattern recognition avoidance - replacing one pattern with another because it is preferable. "The people factor" deploys your pattern regonition system against other people in a social way.

Honestly, I don't think those are the four 'kinds of fun' I would have chosen, but the basic idea is the same: the player gets to FEEL a radically different emotion type based on the kind of fun. It's rare for an RPG to get your blood pumping, but it is equally rare that five years from now you'll remember that really cool thing you did in Tetris.

If I had to define the different kinds of fun, I would define them as "challenge, freedom, and resonance". This isn't official - it's just what I would say if asked right now.

Challenges are the kind of fun where the player has a path they must take and the whole point is to acheive that path. Freedom may have challenges, but not mandatory ones: a player is not forced to take specific actions. Resonance is when the game causes the player to feel something without directly confronting him in play space.

For example, Dance Dance Revolution is a challenge, but there's a pretty big chunk of freedom as to what your body is doing while you're hitting those beats. WATCHING DDR is resonance, because you're kinda groovin' with the people playing.

Further example: Morrowind. Morrowind is a freedom-based game littered with semi-optional challenge play. However, it also has an element of resonance, as freedom-based games usually do, in its stories and environment. The player is immersed in a new and passably interesting world.

Farthest example: GTA. GTA is like Morrowind. You can hardly tell the difference! Except in the SPEED of the play - Morrowind plays at maybe one-tenth the speed of GTA, which is definitely an important choice.

The KEY to most of the most popular games recently is MIXING these three experience types.

A player usually isn't all that incredibly intrigued by just one of these three kinds of experiences. Sure, a game CAN consist of such, but around it springs a culture to support the rest. Take Starcraft's multiplayer mode. It's pretty much entirely challenge play. So what happened? An entire culture sprung up around it, chatting and grooving together, and added resonance to the environment of the game (if not the game itself).

Depending on the exact nature of the play, you can usually do two or even all three of these kinds of play at once, but games don't keep it up. A normal player can't keep playing the same exact way for hours. He burns out. So games switch it up.

Some games even switch up and have multiple 'games' inside their game which are used to get different versions of the same type of experience. An RPG has local challenges (fights) and global challenges (dungeons). These are often mixed with other kinds of fun - a fight, fast-paced and infinitely repeatable, is devoid of any added cruft. "Streamlined" is the word. But a dungeon is a much slower challenge and is liberally combined with freedom and resonance.

By mixing and matching these kinds of experiences and the rate at which they are experienced, a game is made unique. By CORRECTLY mixing them, you get a game which is eminently playable.

I've always reviewed games by their patterns and play loops, but this seems to be even more promising. The games I'm reviewing in my head seem to pretty clearly split up by audience based on the mix of experience.

My favorite game, for example, is Apples to Apples. There's a fast challenge/resonance phase: put down a card, but a card which will win the judge. This is actually quite a complex challenge despite the limited resources. There's a slower challenge/resonance/freedom phase - renumerating on the card you've drawn and filing a bit more information about the reactions of that particular judge in your memory. Usually, the judge is kind enough to make SOME commentary - but not too much - about the cards, causing laughter. Rinse, lather, repeat.

It's simple, but because the challenges are highly diverse within their framework AND they include multiple speeds and experience types, I can play it for days. I don't know if I'm the record-holder for Apples to Apples play, but I played for more than 12 hours once, taking into account a few bathroom breaks and a few meals - usually eaten while playing.

So long as you remember that a challenge has to be a challenge, freedom has to involve freedom, and resonance has to resonate, I think this is a really neat way to look at game design!

Subsets and Subhumans

Whenever a player is playing, the game he is playing is a specific subset of the WHOLE game he CAN play. In games like chess, once through is a COMPLETE subset - that is to say, it is an entire instance of the game such that there is nothing to continue playing, but it is not the ONLY version of the game which can be played.

A typical computer game features you playing through numerous subgames. Perhaps each 'level' of the game, or 'zone', or 'fight'. Each one of these is an INCOMPLETE SUBSET. That is, it is only a tiny portion of what the game has to offer AND there is more to play RIGHT NOW. Once he plays through all the levels, his experience is a COMPLETE SET - he has seen more or less everything that can be seen. Replaying the game is, by and large, an excersize in repetition.

Obviously, some games have this issue more severely than others. RPGs have this problem VERY BAD, whereas multiplayer games like Starcraft have no real problem - their single-player modes are a pretty minor part of the whole game experience.

The big thing here is, at first glance, OTHER PLAYERS. If a game is multiplayer, the experience will change each time, and therefore you'll be able to play it over and over for many unique complete subsets.

But it goes DEEPER than that. This is where I'm dipping a bit into uncharted territory - all of the above is pretty much as most people agree.

Some games are different each time you play them WITHOUT multiplayer modes. Tetris, solitaire, pinball, Oasis, whacking a penguin head across a minefield. The sorts of games we play idly, just for kicks. By introducing an element of chance, we essentially 'simulate' a second, unpredictable, capricious player.

But these games don't get anywhere NEAR the heights of bigger games when it comes to emotional investment. Why?

You could say that randomness doesn't have the punch of a multiplayer game. You could say that they play it for less time than an RPG, so there isn't very much time to build up a stable meme. Are those the reasons?

I really don't think so. I know people who've played Tetris or Lumines for longer than they've played any RPG, but when you ask them what game they have the fondest memories of, they're unlikely to whip Lumines out of their pants. And, frankly, I don't give one stale donut about how long a player plays my game, so long as they are impressed enough to want the NEXT one I produce.

The inherent problem with these randomized games - such as Lumines or pinball - is that their rewards are shallow. Their rewards are shallow. Sure, you can continue to get dozens and dozens of different variations in the pattern, but so what? Ten more points? Five more seconds? Sure, it's something to aim for, a reason to keep playing, but you're not going to keep pulling in intense interest with a reward system like that.

In a game using multiple players or an advancing story, they have deep rewards. Multiplayer rewards are pretty clear: it's in our blood to prove dominance over others of our species, and multiplayer games link to that directly. The deep reward is a deeply satisfying shout of "Who's yer daddy?" This reward rarely gets old, as ten thousand years of games and contests can attest. This may be a distinctly masculine reward - or, more likely, women simply have a different preferred vector.

Storylines ALSO give clear and deep rewards. That cut scene where the castle rips away from the ground? Yeah, that FREAKING ROCKED! Now we're in this flying castle and DRAGONS are attacking us! Hell yeah! Whoa, watch out!

The funny thing is that storyline rewards ALSO use the same, core domination buttons.

Let me demonstrate: perhaps you remember playing Halo 2? If you were one of the ones who DIDN'T hate it, what was your emotion upon cutting the cords holding the sky city in place? Unless I'm sadly mistaken, they were essentially "Whoa, COOL! I ROCK!"

Okay. Now I'm going to start to run. Remember the thing on action I keep harping on? Action is nothing more or less that a chance to prove your power (via your character). But in order for it to MEAN something, the enemy you've just defeated (whether it be a snot zombie or a puzzle) has to have a known power level. One of the major difficulties in 'easy' games with stories (such as 95%+ of games with stories) is to hide the fact that the enemy you're defeating SUCKS ROYAL BUTTOCKS.

This is usually done in two ways: by requiring you to have 'special' powers while fighting him or by 'proving' his power in events (both immediate and historical) during gameplay.

For example: I never had a real hard time with Kefka. But he's my favorite badass. He broke the world in half, he killed the general, he kept an army of robot slaves, and so on. When we got to fight him, we attacked him in WAVES in order to stand a chance! Of course, the fact that we've never fought in waves before means that this is REALLY IMPORTANT! right?

RPGs spend ALL THIS TIME building up these enemies and allies, solidifying their patterns and bouncing them off one another so that you can get this "Yowza!" fight-flight-I rock thing going.

Multiplayer games don't. They rely on the fact that all the players are very familiar with the patterns involved. The patterns ALREADY have power levels built in, so when the other player applies them as he sees fit, the first player can judge how much trouble he's in and what kind of player the other guy is. This is APPROXIMATELY the same approach as an RPG!

BOTH kinds of games create stable patterns and give the players their excitement by mixing established patterns in cool ways. The RPG builds these patterns step-by-step out of carefully placed building blocks. The multiplayer game builds these patterns by creating a game which can be replayed a zillion times, each time reinforcing the pattern.

The RPG uses COMPLETE SETS, whereas the multiplayer game uses COMPLETE SUBSETS. There is no difference in how long the player plays - the difference is merely in whether he plays it as ONE game or one MILLION games. Of course, a game which has a suitably wide possibility set will always be ABLE to be played longer than a game which has only one possibility set - but the player is unlikely to WANT to play them that long.

The question is, can this be done BY HEURISTIC rather than by the human hand?

In multiplayer games, the answer is NO. If you can map the whole of possibility space into your artificial intelligence, your possibility space is too small to bother with.

But can it be done with a STORY?

Okay, everybody and their pet dog has tried to make heuristically-generated stories. If they come even close to succeeding, it's always a painfully boring story. It never works. I'm NOT trying to do that.

I'm trying to make it so that an algorithm can build up the various characters and keep the player entertained along a story.

For example, you tell the game, "The princess has been captured by a dragon. You have to hunt down the dragon and kill him. But at the end you discover that the princess moved into the cave and kicked the dragon out."

The game would then extrapolate. It would have an engine, and graphics. It would build you a character and some abilities. It would create a series of levels and upgrades. It would use written story points, but the actual gameplay would be created on the fly, specifically honed for that particular player's play style.

The thing I like about this idea is that the player could specify a length. He could say, "only two hours, please!" or he could say, "give me a 40 hour game!" The game would then go off and doodle out some subplots and secondary characters.

Essentially, you teach the computer to play improv jazz.

Yeah, I know this is a really expensive and possibly impossible idea. Fortunately, there is nothing I am better at than reducing the scope of an issue.

For example, make it a futuristic racing game. You specify the 'length' of the game, which the system extrapolates out into a specific number of divisions (or planets) and stages (which can be created by heuristic). The computer also creates a large number of cars by heuristic - more cars for longer games.

The computer then creates a number of characters, either by accessing a character database or by heuristic.

Suddenly, the improv doesn't seem so far off. By keeping track of players and having a fairly large database of commentary, the computer can create rivals and friends for you, and doodle little stories about their troubles and triumphs around you. Simply by keeping track of who does what to whom and who wins over who, you can make characters 'learn' who to hate and who to trust. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, they are more likely to help their friends and hence become closer friends. A number of subplots - such as assaults, technological development, damaged vehicles - can be selected as needed to spice up the action.

While I would not presume this doodling would match a carefully planned out story, that's the cool part: it could COEXIST with a carefully planned out story! It could serve to lengthen the game to the correct length WITHOUT adding stupid crap. Indeed, even the carefully-planned story could have optional story points which only come out if the player is playing a long enough version of the game.

Of course, this would be an engine thing, not a particular game thing. You'd want to be able to reuse it for your next five or six games.

It's obviously total blue sky, but have you any comments?