Friday, September 30, 2005

Me Brain Hoits!

Last night I had one of those brainstormy nights, where you come up with great idea after great idea after great idea. Unfortunately, none of those ideas include "sleep", so I'm pretty damn tired today.

Still, I'll do my best to explain one of these ideas, which is a clarification of how to use 3D representation and game design to create an interactive non-game experience for the purposes of telling people stuff. I also thought up a really great way to simulate romance in games (not sex: romance). I think it's astoundingly awesome, but it's not something I want to show off until I've verified that it works.

Ahem. 3D representation and game design.

Actually, this post will just limit itself to adaptive game design. I've got things to do, and you've got more interesting blogs to read. 3D representation will come later. I came up with this idea long ago, and I even have the algorithm to support it with... but it's still untested.

Presumably, you all read books, at least on occasion. You've probably noticed that sometimes you don't feel like reading a book, sometimes you do. Moreover, sometimes you feel like reading, say, Asimov. Other times, you might be in a Piers Anthony mood. Still other times, you might feel like tackling a textbook or a magazine. A given book can't be all those things without being really irritating... but why do games limit themselves to one particular mood/genre?

The thing that software can do which they presently don't is adapt to the mood of the player. Some people are making forays, but they're hideous mockeries - like Yahoo's "MindUnSet" system. Defining several different "moods" for your game or software might take quite a bit of added time, but with the middleware explosion, costs in both time and money are going to drop for us indies.

In addition, it's easy to tell what the memetic landscape of the player is. For example, it's generally pretty easy to tell what the player's favorite characters are, and from that establish a meme. I tend to pick the cute girls for my initial run of a game, and drop them only if they prove to be useless. It's pretty easy for a game to determine what one of my interests is from that. I hate mascot characters - I kill them and leave them dead, even if it makes the game phenominally hard. Again, you can clearly see my memetic landscape.

A game could easily adjust to that memetic landscape, either pandering to or educating the player. You could easily explore social concepts such as equal rights, communism, gift cultures, and a thousand other concepts this way. Or you can just pander to their already existing interests. But you can't do it with a nonadaptive game, because you need the memetic hooks. You need to know what buttons to press to get the player interested.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Network of Trust

Darius accidentally pointed me at this guy, who apparently has some of the same basic ideas as me about personalized networks. This guy, Charles Bloom, talks about a network of trust and explains it in the same basic way I once explained mine. Did I explain it on this blog? I'm pushing 300 posts, so I would bet I did, but it would have been long enough ago that without a handy-dandy search function I'm not going to look for it.

His idea is either incomplete or just poorly explained. As I pointed out here, you need a remarkably complex tool for determining what content should be rated at what level... and a way to either fully- or semi-automatically put content into its particular "band".

This is not as easy as simply making categories, because categories are foolishly large and are usually diluted with irrelevant material extremely quickly. For example, a "music" category would not be detailed enough. Neither would a "rock" category. And what about a song which is rock AND soul? Does it go in both categories? Neither? What about the jerk who puts naked pictures in every "music" category you have?

The categories need to be created automatically and things need to be plunked into them automatically, based on who rates what as what. That's not an easy task, but neither is it insurmountable.

The other half of this setup is what it can be used for. It could be used as a P2P network, sure. Could Google use it in "Google search"? No, not really: the whole concept revolves around it being central to the computer, and making it a P2P setup is really ideal. Otherwise, Google is taking on a lot of overhead for very little benefit. Ideally, it's a program you punch up - like eMule - and it knows who to contact and who you trust at what levels. As you rate downloaded content, it would automatically re-rate the trust ratings and update your "spectra" - what kinds of content you like and what kinds of content other people like.

It would really work well because the machines could ask favors from each other in order to increase trust in general. For example, your server is being hit with ten thousand requests for a fifty-meg file. Your server goes to its friends and says, "hey, host this, would you?" at which point it can redirect would-be requesters to these new computers. Then the new computers gain trust from their downloaders, you gain trust as a router, and the file gets spread. You could even negotiate to download only to programs that agree to keep the file hosted for a certain number of days.

It would also be nearly ideal as a news client - think Blogroll, but with exceptional, largely automated content control. You could sign up for my blog, but choose not to receive any of my posts which were (A) longer than 500 words or (B) about theory. You could trawl through blogs in general, using the spectra controls, number of links, and indirect trust level to highlight blog posts you're likely to like.

But the real key here is that spectra. You need to be able to decipher the myriad of goods offered in the network into a set of categories - either explicit categories or implicit categories. But you can't just have a certain number of predefined categories, and you certainly can't allow people to create categories willy-nilly.

You either need a central database which dissects all the traffic and turns all the clients into lists of bands... or you need to have each client do that on its own. Which is more efficient? I don't know, but having a central database is both more expensive and legally more iffy.


Well, thanks for the interesting read, Mr. Bloom.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Partioned and Counter-Weighted Game Elements

The MMORPG of the future is going to have some trouble.

Right now, massively multiplayer games are essentially really long RPGs. Players level through them, reach the end, and eagerly await an expansion. However, balancing an RPG is a science which has yet to be founded. This means that the game gets rebalanced every month or so, especially right after a new expansion. Moreover, just the act of releasing an expansion rebalances (or unbalances) the game.

You can't leave a game unbalanced, or it becomes a dominated strategic space. IE, not a game, but a puzzle. A solved puzzle.

The thing is, this isn't healthy.

First and foremost, it requires serious manpower. All this data-mining and re-balancing takes employees, each of which costs probably $100,000 a year... or more! Certainly not affordable for a niche game, and even a big-name game should think twice before just dropping that kind of cash. Especially since the balancing is usually pretty tenuous.

Second, it pisses off the players. Rebalancing will always please some people and piss off others - but you don't need the additional pleasure and the additional pain is not at the top of your list, either.

Third, the law is about to hit hard. With real money trading, it won't be long before game administrators find themselves getting sued by people with tens of thousands of dollars invested in the game - tens of thousands that were just cut in half by a rebalancing effort. Especially plausable in games where one player can conceivably upset the balance simply by investing tens of thousands of dollars.

What's the alternative?

No rebalancing. Sure, have add-ons. Whether player-generated or corporate-made, they're all but necessary to keep a game like this interesting. But build the game so it doesn't require balance.


Partition and counter-weight your gameplay elements.

Counter-weighting is simply making every feature have a counter-feature.

For example, every game with stealth should have an anti-stealth. The ability to detect stealth in every manner that stealth gives an advantage. If stealth lets you rob houses, houses need to have traps. If stealth lets you steal from players, players need to be able to invest in wards and watchers.

Is stealth too powerful? All that means is a rise in the stealth-related population. Stealthy people become more popular because stealth is more useful. Anti-stealth becomes more popular because stealth became more popular. Stealth stops becoming more popular. Equilibrium is reached, albeit with a larger stealth-related infrastructure than you might have originally planned.

If you release "The Hounds of Orgoth", which gives thieves a significant bonus if they do such-and-such, you won't be unbalancing the game. All thieves will flock to Orgoth, but when they emerge all that will follow them is a horde of anti-thieves, getting fat on protecting people from thieves. Maybe the anti-thieves are also thieves... which brings us to the next point.

Of course, to do this you need to design your game with it in mind from the ground up. You can't reasonably expect to paste this sort of fundamental feature into a game that's in development.

Because none of the gameplay elements can stand alone.

No matter how many thieves or anti-thieves there are, they cannot do anything very well without non-thieves. Or, at least, thieves who do other things. Thieves, no matter how good at stealth, are greatly enhanced by having wizards, warriors, blacksmiths, alchemists, and any other class around. Not only because they're easy to steal from, but because the gameplay advantages they offer are overwhelming. A thief with a sword is better off than a thief without one. A thief with an invisibility potion is better off than a thief without one.

Because of this, even if thief was the uberclass, thieves would be all but forced to find and hire non-thieves to boost them. "I'll protect you from other thieves if you make me invisibility potions," for example.

The same could be true no matter who the 'unbalanced' class is. If it turns out that potions are insanely powerful, everyone will want to be an alchemist... until the market is flooded with potions and nobody to buy them. Self-correcting, self-balancing.


Of course, this produces a vibrant, complex, and thoroughly daunting world. Newbies and casual players will feel lost and outgunned.

That's where partitioning comes in. But this post is already long enough.


Here's a question for any linguistic scholars out there:

Is our recent habit of turning verbs into nouns and nouns into verbs actually a recent habit? Nowadays, it's pretty much given that you can say a noun as a verb (or visa-versa) and everyone will understand what you mean.

Was this common in earlier time periods? We can't really look at literature for two reasons: first, there's not all that incredibly much literature to look at. Second, the literature of old was written almost entirely as careful prose, so comparing it to the internet posts of today is like comparing a major Vegas casino with three drunks playing strip poker.

I think it's probably more common to verbify words these days than in earlier times for one major reason: more people are communicating less officially. That, to me, implies a level of linguistic drift you can't expect earlier eras to have had.

Plus, oldschool geeks loved wordplay, which I'm sure seeded the internet habit of splitting into infinite subdialects.

I think it might be more common these days than before, but I don't know. Does anyone have any info on the matter?

I'm also interested in unusual linguistic structures. For example: "More people are communicating less officially" is a bad sentence. Does it mean that there are more people communicating, and more of those people are communicating less officially, or does it mean that more of the people who communicate do so less officially? IE, is it "(More people) are (communicating less officially)" or "More (people are communicating less efficiently)" or something else?

Such are the concerns of an armchair linguist. Feel free to share your linguistic convulsions.

Different Strokes for the Same Folks

I made a bunch of different small portraits for the same androgenous character - using a bunch of different lineart styles. I did these styles without reference material, so they're kind of... tainted by my stereotypes. Still, they serve to show a bunch of ways the same character can be shown.

It's supposed to be androgenous, but I think it's a female, because some of the styles don't let you have androgenous characters. I really need to learn how to scale my artwork, because these looked really crappy shrunk. So you get the full-size pieces.

These were drawn on my tablet. Altogether, they took just about an hour. Why did I do this? Because I wish I could get full-quality pieces out of this damn tablet! It's practice.

My default comic style. I have more and less detailed standards, but this is a nice, mid-range model that gets you where you're going without costing you a fortune in graphite. Even though I don't use graphite.

Stereotypical manga style. Obviously, influenced by none other than me. It's how I draw, when someone asks me to draw in manga or anime style, although with a few extra lines added.

Classic newsprint, the kind of thing you see in old-fashioned comic books.

A little into the indie scene we find "punk", which has been growing in popularity for a while now. I made the name up, but hopefully you recognize the style: it's the self-absorbed artist obsessed with "gothy" culture and acid rock. And acid. This is androgenous!

Yeah. Proudly indie comics are just... like, so cutting edge, man.

I think this is a pretty little style. I've seen it once or twice, but I don't think it originated from a particular artist. It's painfully cute and really easy to draw. So I'll just call it "Rosenkrantz" style.

Maybe I should call it the "Oakley", out of sheer respect, but he certainly didn't originate it. It's been around since, what, the 1800s? So I'll name it "Guildenstern".

You know, I said I didn't have any reference materials, but I think I really nailed this one. "Marvel" style.

Here's some more that I didn't deem worthy of putting front-page:

What do you get when you reduce manga down to minimum lines so that the inbetweeners don't stab you with their pointy implements of mass creation? Anime-style. Easy to draw, easy to skip.

CLAMP style manga will drive you MAAAAD. Believe it or not, this is, in fact, how androgenous CLAMP characters look.

Another indie style is "pulp". Because they can't draw anything even passably beautiful, they make everyone ragged, rugged, and ugly. Children with old-man wrinkles. Women that look like this. I hate these types of comics - the artists are even more self-absorbed than punk style artists.

There are a lot of other styles out there. Any you care to suggest? I'll whip up a portrait for it.

Which ones are your favorites? Which ones do you hate the most?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Style Sketches

Trying to settle on a style preference with Darius. Here are some quick style sketches in what is pretty much my "default" lineart plus the not-quite-flat shading that he seemed to prefer.

These are not polished, they are not final - they are simply tools to show where I stand. I'm posting them here because I'm sure everyone out there in TV land really wants to see my crude sketches.


Monday, September 26, 2005

Show, Don't Tell

I found this post earlier today. The author tries to adapt the "show, don't tell" mentality from linear drama over to interactive drama. That is to say, games.

It's long and involved, but I don't agree with much of it.

The basic idea is that when we read a book or watch a television series, we are "shown" rather than "told". At least, we should be. Nobody on TV says "I'm furious!" Instead, they look and act furious. Pretty simple.

He asks "in a game, is it the player or the character who is supposed to be acting furious?"

He thinks it should be the player. There's a couple of issues with that, but I won't go into detail on any but one:

In order to feel resonance, we need to be told what to feel.

In movies, this is very straight-forward. He's angry, we can tell he's angry because he's looking and acting angry. Despite the fact that we're following a "show, don't tell" doctrine, we're still being told.

What we feel in relation to this character's anger depends on our opinion of the character. If we like the character, we're likely to get angry along with them, or at least sympathize. If we dislike the character, we're going to feel glad someone tweaked their nose.

A game has no special method for showing emotion. Emotion is always shown through how people act, and games have no fantastic new way of showing how people act. Maybe games will someday have new ways of determining how people act, but showing those actions will still be pretty much the same: we'll see the person, and we'll see the person doing something.

Point of fact, games are actually worse at this, because our camera angles are terrible. By highlighting given parts of the characters and their interaction, the camera highlights the emotion and punches it up a notch. Game cameras are centered around the main character or are eternally zoomed out. This probably accounts for the late development of body language displays, but it also probably accounts for the rather barren emotional climate most games have. "FMV" is a solution, but it has other problems.

Anyhow, because games have no special advantage in showing emotion, they have no special advantage in causing resonant (character-driven) emotion. So games have two choices:

A) Games are exceedingly good at making the player like or hate a given character. This, in turn, lets you get more return from less emotional impact. If the game really develops Abacus Jane, then when she loses her Fantasti-Math skills and starts to cry, you'll feel sorry for her.

This is enhanced by the game's length. Because games are long, you are exposed to a character for a very long period of time - and at a relatively high-fidelity level.

B) Games are also exceedingly good at getting direct emotional responses instead of sympathetic responses. In a movie, characters are built up so that actions for and against them will mean something. If a character strikes it rich right when he's introduced, that's a plot device, not a way to make you feel an emotional resonance.

In a game, however, you can immediately link a character to the player's well-being. Watching Abacus Jane help build a skyscraper in a movie would be pretty dull. In a game, however, being Abacus Jane building the skyscraper intrinsically links the player to both Abacus Jane and the skyscraper.

This means that when Abacus Jane loses her Fantasti-Math skills, the player will feel it personally instead of sympathetically. Because the player lost his Fantasti-Math skills and all the options that were available through that skill.

For both options, controlling the player's play experience allows you to rapidly set up a level of emotional response about characters and features that a movie can't match. You want the player to hate someone? Easy as pie - have that someone reduce the player's freedom of play. You want the player to like someone? Do the opposite. Just make sure to continually link the play experience with the character. Otherwise, the character becomes an empty vessel rather than an emotive font.

Did that make any sense?

Friday, September 23, 2005

Spaceship Flying Games Suck

A lot of people love spaceship-flying games. Hell, I really enjoyed Privateer. But the fact is, they suck. They are halfway between a crippled airplane sim and a diving sim. For example, they all have a "maximum speed". Excuse me? Maximum speed my left buttock! What am I maxing out against? My "maximum speed" should be the speed of the large obstacle directly in front of me.

There are two reasons that these games are the way they are:

The first is difficulty in controlling a space ship. If you can go any speed, and your limit is acceleration, you're going to have a lot of players who accelerate and accelerate and accelerate until they are simply going too fast to play the game. They crater or blow by the conflict. In addition, there's the display: visuals in a space ship are worthless. If you're going 10,000 MpH, the Death Star is barely going to be visible before it's too late!

The second reason is because people don't really understand the dynamics of space. I mean, some people do, but not the average player. Wrapping his head around the idea of gravity wells, orbital physics, orbital debris, and scale is something he has never tried.

What I want to do is create two spaceship flying games. One would be "realistic". It would be a game of building space stations and ships, dominating orbits, and conquering earth's space. It could be for the computer pretty easily, and it would be a slow strategy game, no test of physical prowess involved. However, it would still require 3D output (like most space games) due to the nature of space.

The other would be for the Nintendo Revolution, and it would be a space racing game. But it would be more... unique than other fighter jockey games. Your fighter has two vector thrust engines. Those are essentially just engines with some maneuvering plates that force the thrust to go in a particular direction.

The movement of the controller represents the vector thrust. Lift or tip the controller, and the vector plates sink, tipping the whole ship so as to point "up". Tilt the controller, and the vector plates on one side tip up, and on the other side tip down. This spins your ship.

The game would be largely about learning what "speed" is. You have no speed limit, but you quickly learn what your effective speed limit is in any given place. For example, while you're in a given orbit, you don't want to go too fast or too slow, because the debris will tear you apart. There's an on-board computer which issues suggestions.

I think both of those games would be fun and educational.

Tablets and Torture!

It's torture using a tablet. Every time I get sick of how badly I draw on a tablet, I go back and draw something on paper - and it looks great.

Yesterday, I looked back through the things I'd drawn on paper, and realized something: I'm really improving. The torture on the tablet is honing skills I never realized I was lacking, and returning to the incredible ease of paper shows the improvement.

Unfortunately, that doesn't change the fact that I don't have a scanner.

Here's (full size) the image which made me return to paper in irritation. The paper sketch looks really good... but you won't ever get to see it!

It's largely the lack of instant feedback. I'm drawing on one place, seeing the image on another. Maybe I should look into tablet PCs or something.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Words, Worlds, and Freedom of Movement

This is gonna be one of those theoretical posts I'm sure everyone has grown to love.

I've mentioned before that almost everything revolves around communication. In this universe, nothing is more powerful than communication. It can be said that for each rung up from a basic virus, life's growing complexity, size, and universe-manipulating abilities stem from improved communication.

Humans are the first and thus far only creature to master extending our communicative reach. That is probably our only real advantage. Even as grunting cavemen, our depth and breadth of communication was miles beyond even the smartest chimpanzee. Once we started painting animals with spears through them on our walls, well, we left everything else so far behind it was laughable. Our communication was not only deep and wide: it was permanent.

Our history has been nothing more than a long list of communication advances and their results. That's pushing it, but think. Rome's extraordinary feature was its extraordinary roads and localized management structure. Both are communication-efficators. Genghis Khan's strength was in his speed and unpredictability - both methods of controlling communication. Japan's repeated growth spurts are largely due to the level of cohesion in their populace - again, something based around communication.

Some people talk about a societal "singularity". Nobody is exactly sure what form it will take, but the basic idea is that progress will reach such a peak that, essentially, nobody will even be able to tell what progress is being made. They'll just be walking down the street (or virtual avenue, or space lane) and look over and say, "Holy shit, there's a real android! Why didn't I hear about this, and where can I get one?"

In more familiar terms, the singularity is where communication becomes so easy and fluid that it wraps right back around and becomes hopelessly chaotic.

I've said that a "shadow geography" of self-imposed "willing blindness" will keep societies stable - but that doesn't preclude the singularity! All the singularity needs is that all the smart people interested in a given topic can work together with an extremely low overhead. The day I can work with anyone, anywhere in the world, on anything - that's the day singularity is real.

How far are we from that?

Ask anyone who inhabits a virtual world.

Okay, Fine, a Revolution

I just wanted to say: yes, I think the Revolution's controller is a revolution.

People like to say, "at best, it's an evolution". Nothing like this has ever been mainstream before. Now, it will be. That's a revolution.

People like to say, "it's the games that matter, not the IO device!" But until consoles came out with two thumbpads for control, the entire FPS genre was essentially computer-only. Now that two thumbpads is the norm, it has changed the entire landscape of consoles.

"But RPGs don't rely on IO devices! Any kind of device will work!"

El Wrongo! The RPG genre has undergone several major shifts as new IO standards have come into play. The ability to display graphics was a big one. Is "Zork" the same genre as "Quest for Glory"? They have, fundamentally, the same gameplay. But Quest for Glory has several play features Zork can't match. Minigames of skill, for example. Exact comparitive locations. Intuitive and interactive displays both for skills/inventory and for the world itself.

Born from this same set of features came the "puzzle game", in my mind epitomized by Lolo. Impossible with a simpler display, because it would be nearly impossible to display the spatial relation of the puzzle pieces.

When we broke from a one-dimensional text writing display two a two-dimensional graphical display, the nature of the game changed.

Similarly, once 3D became common, we changed again. 3D adventures and platformers came into being with the same basic play design as "Zork". But are "Zork" and "Beyond Good and Evil" the same genre? That would be quite a stretch, despite the fact that they are both about going from place to place, uncovering secrets, and beating puzzles.

As the game display grew more complex, the games grew more... real-time. You could make a move in Zork then stop for a week. While in many places you could simply stop for a week in Beyond Good and Evil, in many situations that would make you lose.

However, output is not the only part of IO. Input is critical, too. The more in-tune the input and output, the more flawlessly interactive the game is. With Zork, it was 1D. We used a keyboard to do text entry, which is also 1D. With adventure games, it became a 2D display, and we began using arrow keys, joypads, and mice - 2D input devices. Since then, we've moved to a 3D display. More than that, we've moved from a 3D, 3 degrees-of-freedom system to a 3D, 5DoF system. Our controls? We're still using joypads and mice. We combine several 2DoF input devices to try to control a 5DoF output device. That's like trying to draw how the gravitational influences of the planets will cause wobbles in their orbits over the next five thousand years on a sheet of paper. Because using more than one pencil really makes that simpler!

Have you ever noticed how incredibly irritating flight simulators are to use? Why? Because you're trying to control 5DoF with only 2DoF controls! If you're one of the people who loves flight sims, how about fighting games? We're controlling what is a 6-10DoF game using a variety of pre-scripted buttons that execute not-so-complex maneuvers in most of those freedoms simultaneously.

Can you imagine how much of an advantage a fighter who could spontaneously innovate new maneuvers for his fighter would have over the guy who does "A, X, X for triple uppercut"? Pull the controller to the side to jump back, then, using perfect timing, whip the controller to the other side to close, twist it and click a button to kick. He's still stuck following the same pre-scripted routine! He wouldn't stand a chance!

As I said, new genres are born with the birth of a new system of IO.

I'll be buying a Revolution. I will NOT be buying either of the others.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Just Another Day

It's been a while since I posted a sketch.

I figured I should warn everyone: I've got a project coming down the line, so there might be less essays. And there was much rejoicing. Huzzah!

Monday, September 19, 2005

X-Prize Cup

I want to go!

Sure, it'll be boring and pointless this year. It's the first time it's been run, after all. It'll have long, painful hours spent doing nothing and a preponderance of propaganda.

But it's a dream come true.

It costs six bucks. For a week of space geeking. And, on Sunday, demonstration launches and tests. By at least four different crafts/engines. If that doesn't give you tingles all over, you have no soul.

Maybe I can wrangle just going down for the seventh, eighth, and ninth...

Dammit, no, that would still cost me $300+, and I just can't afford it. Goddamn it!

If you can go, go. Bring me some swag.

I'll go next year.

Jade Empire

Yeah, so I spent the weekend playing Jade Empire. No spoilers follow, although I do tell how the game feels to play. And tell you two dominant strategies.

The game wasn't very good. The fighting was really boring, the balance was terrible ("shock dragon" is a very dominant strategy which kills every boss but one). The game was either too long or too short: the number of sidequests rode the trough between "a world to play in" and "a pleasant distraction". The plot was transparent, most of the character design was really uninspired, and many of the characters were... uh... inherited directly from Hong Kong cinema and Barry Hughart.

Despite that, the game was fun (for the first three quarters). It was fun because the setting was new and interesting. After a while, the newness wore off and it got really dull, but that took longer than it should have. Vibrant dialogue and great voice acting really carried it much farther than it should have gone.

The game's design was weird. All the female characters had the most incredibly boring design. None of them were at all interesting - they were all the most cliched of Hong Kong cinema stereotypes. On the other hand, the male characters were, for the most part, very well designed. Some of them were cut-outs, but their commentary and backstories made them fun and interesting.

It seems bizarre to me when I meet a random bit-part NPC and think, "Hey, she looks way cooler than any of the girls currently in my party - I wonder if I can get her?"

Here's a spoiler-free anecdote to show you how irritated I grew with the game.

After I discovered Shock Dragon, nothing could challenge me except demons. After a while, you get so much focus that even demons are child's play. So, I had been fighting for the whole game. Punching, kicking, hitting people with sticks, throwing ice at them, always the same motions, over and over. Their response was invariably to fall over and fade away. As I mentioned, the game wasn't very fun to play.

So when I started getting really pathetic challenges, I decided to try out the dual-ax weapon technique. One man attacked me, and I hit him with the axes and oh my god, his head flew off and there's blood spurting everywhere. Whoa. Never saw that anywhere else in the game. Was it a plot point?

No, I found out a moment later as I took on a flock of scrubs. Not only do the axes cause this incredibly wicked fatality - there are multiple animations. For the rest of the game, I used nothing but that except on exceptionally difficult fights, because the head 'splodies were the only interesting thing about the fighting.

How sad is it that the only time I actually was interested in playing the primary game loop was when I was getting a cool animation after each death?

Despite that, it was still more fun than most other games on the shelves.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Economics: The Collectable Card Game

I was just wandering around and found Katrina: The Gathering cards. Unfortunately, they clicked in my head with MMORPG economies, and I thought to myself:

To teach and test economic theory, it should be possible to use a collectable card game - or even just a non-collectable card game. Theoretically, you can also test political theories and all that crap, too.

Think about it like this: Magic: The Gathering has five different "color mana". The economic game, on the other hand, might have five different economic fundamentals. Say, money, gems (long-term luxuries/investments), flowers (short-term luxuries), grain (necessities), and organization. Or maybe organization would be like colorless artefacts and there's another "color". Whatever.

Each would have different economic rules, embodied by the cards they play and their relationships with other card types... all explicitly spelled out in cards. Jen played the "planned economy" card - no workers may be removed from play until it is destroyed. Michael plays eight luxuries workers - he can't pay their upkeep, but they can't be destroyed. Does he get to keep them for free, or is the player of the "planned economy" card responsible for paying them? These are the sorts of things the card game could illustrate.

I think it's an interesting idea. It wouldn't be "realistic", but it would be thought-provoking and maybe even fun. Unlike most games, it wouldn't be a matter of "get more mana, deploy more creatures": the primary feedback loops require a level of interactive infrastructure, and direct attacks would be rare.

You could probably do the same type of thing with politics, but I wouldn't know where to begin.

What do you guys think?

Bone and Content

The new Bone game is out, as you probably noticed. I played the demo. Everyone seems so excited, and I'm not sure why. The demo was five minutes long - it had just one puzzle. The puzzle was cute, but hardly innovative, and it still had that blocky "pause the universe and wait" feeling that made me dislike adventure games in the first place. The second thing it showed was a bad action sequence.

And, of course, the voices don't match the ones I have in my head.

Why is everyone so excited about this? Has anyone bought it? Can anyone tell me if it's worth $20? Is it worthy of the Bone franchise name?


On a side note, I got a bit of a scare. Look at this photo. What are the first things you notice? Go and look.

If you're like me, the first thing you notice is the smiling woman. Compositionally, she's the focus. The second thing I noticed was the blue product, whatever it is, quickly followed by the white product, then the wine. Somewhere during that I absorbed the fact that this was a Christmas scene - the wrappings, although not directly looked at, were acknowledged.

I never noticed the man's face. I dismissed the pic as an advertisement - although it's not - and never noticed the primary feature of the picture.

Wow. My brain has been trained to utterly dismiss advertisements and the people in them. If I had seen the products first, I would never have seen the woman's face at all.

There's SO MUCH that can be learned from that, but first I guess I'd need to know what you guys saw. Comment!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

What's love got to do with it?

Recently, there's been a spat of fun chatter on the IGDA forums about what kinds of emotions we should be portraying in games besides, say, an adrenaline rush.

We are definitely seeing a growing number of games trying to touch the player with more than a zortch-kafwoom. From ICO to The Sims and even Leisure Suit Larry, we are seeing games slowly pull away from violence.

Violence will never be gone from games, of course. The day nobody is playing a violent game is the day I release one just to make fat sacks of cash. But like movies, violence is not the only thing games are about any more.

I'm of the opinion that "love" is one of the things we need in games. By "love" I don't mean the fuzzy greeting-card kind of love. Sure, we can have some of that, but when I say "love", I mean "dedication and obsession".

Most of the most fascinating characters in video games (and in movies and comics and books) are fascinating because of what they love - or what they cannot love. Especially villains, because obsessions tend to make a character rather opaque, and good guys are usually window characters.

Think about your favorite characters:

Darth Vader was about his tortured obsessions and dedications.

People liked "Angel" from Buffy because for the same reason. Hell, people liked Buffy herself for how she dealt with her new duties and her forming dedication to them.

All of Clint Eastwood's characters were about their dedication - or obsession - with the life of the gun.

Hannibal Lector's fleshy obsessions and his bizarre dedication to politeness.

Think about it. Most of the really cool characters have bizarre obsessions. The mad scientist who builds a robot in the shape of his dead daughter. The dedicated starship captain. The giant moster who defends Japan.

This is probably because obsession is pleasantly bizarre without comprimizing the humanity of the subject. For example, a movie about someone with tourettes would almost certainly have to be about showing that the person is still a person, even though he curses continually. On the other hand, a movie about someone who loves someone with tourettes is far more accessable, because that person is inherently interesting without seeming incomprehensible.

At least, that's what I think.

So, in summary: most characters can be defined by their obsessions - what they are dedicated to. Even characters which are not obsessed when they start generally become obsessed by halfway through the story.

That's one of the things which makes characters interesting. It operates on a deep level, so you'll want to do other things that make a character interesting on the surface, but don't forget obsessions. Dedicate yourself to them. :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Progress, of a Sort

A while back I mentioned a really cool theory I wasn't done expounding on. Well, I made a bunch of advancements!

What do reading a book, listening to music, falling in love, and hypnosis have in common?

Now I know! Or, at least, now I have a theory. I've got a lot of polishing and testing to do, though. Since it can be applied to comics, I'll probably put up a short (12 page?) comic in the next two weeks which uses the theory. Then I'll be able to see if the theory holds any water. :)

Don't forget: auroras today! Or rather, tonight. Eyes on the skies, people!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


This is a very quick and dirty summary of the "To The Future!" game idea. Lemme know if you have any thoughts on the matter.

A Game Design!

Well, I spent most of last night pounding out the "To The Future!" game design.

It looks doable.

More than that, it actually looks EASY.

The game is essentially a text game - not as in "interactive fiction", but as in "the graphical user interface is really just buttons". There's no need for a slick 3D interface, no need for wonderful maps. The core play loop is totally independent of graphics. That's good, because graphics are the hard part.

I'll certainly add graphics, but it's nice to be able to make a simple version without graphics first. Oh, if it works, I'll be using the emotion engine I created a few months back to animate the characters. I just need to figure out how to do mouths...

Anyhow, I'll upload a game post summary and link to it sometime today. You can read it and be awed by my brilliance. My brain glows in the dark. People go blind when they look up my nose. Really, it's quite a bother.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Software Update!

Nice weekend.

I got a bunch of early simulations running for various "social simulation" algorithms I'm testing. My first tests were a method of creating ways for characters to interact - a glorified "topic" list, with each character more or less interested in any given topic. The end result was not staggeringly interesting, so I added a loop where the more skilled you are in a topic, the more people respect you if they like the topic. That ended up with some kind of bizarre interactions - such as the man who hated aeronautics. Damn aeronautics!

But it also created a nice "web" of personal connections which could be used for a play loop. That means it can support a game. However, I need to avoid making the people into mere tokens, and there's three elements to that: limiting the number of people, making the people have very human interests, and making the humans active rather than controllably passive.

All are within reach - the second is actually hardest. I came up with a bunch of game ideas, but the one I like best is called "To The Future!"

You inherited a hotel out in the middle of nowhere from a distant family member. So you and all your geeky college buddies go to live there. The game is played by collecting scientists of various specialties and gaining upgrades which allow the hotel to be more attractive to more capable and established scientists.

The basic idea is that the more scientists you have, the more likely an experiment is to run amok and do serious (and humorous) harm. So you really have to decide whether you want to play it safe with a slower advancement or walk the edge with a few more scientists. I'm thinking the normal number would be six, with an effective absolute max cap of a dozen. Few enough that the player can keep them all as distinct personalities in his head.

There were a bunch of other ideas - such as a superhero team - but I like the geeks best. I love the idea of every character in the game being painfully socially inept, both because it's endearing and because it hides the weaknesses of the social engine.

I also performed some basic tests on drama generation and a learning system inside COGENT. The learning system is, so far, a failure. The drama system might be cool, once I've banged out some more bugs, but it would be best as a lightweight massively multiplayer game in which players did a lot of content generation.


Interesting fact of the day: steamrollers have squeegies on their "wheels".

Friday, September 09, 2005

More Ranting.

A bit of a ranty week, I'm afraid.

I'm beginning to hate Seattle.

Today I was walking to work and passed a shop-encrusted square. It was early: only one business was open. The entryways to the rest of the businesses - literally all of them - and most of the benches were occupied by sleeping vagrants. More than a dozen of them. All with nice sleeping bags.

The one business that was open was completely empty. It was a blue-collar job placement agency.

Oh, yeah, we're really helping people. Socialism still doesn't work. Shocker!

In January, Seattle decided it was going to enforce recycling. It's only taken nine months for them to convince my building manager to follow these amazing new rules.

"Seattle spends $28 million on moving trash to landfills, where it remains forever," they ejaculate. "Up to 25% of that trash is recyclable," they crow. "We can save our citizens $2 million if we recycle even better! So, if your trash is more than 10% recyclable by weight, you get a fine! Wheee!"

Already I'm thinking to myself, "What the fuck?"

A) This isn't enforceable unless they weigh and sort each bin before they put it into the truck. They aren't going to do that.

B) "Forever" is just a stupid thing to say. Most of the trash we throw away certainly won't last forever. In fact, most of it won't even last a hundred years.

C) Recycling produces toxic waste, as opposed to landfilling, which produces no toxins.

D) You can't save money by recycling. It costs more. There must be a federal grant involved.

So I turn over the paper and see a long list of "recycle-yes!" and "recycle-no!" materials. Paper of all varieties is "recycle-yes!" Glass of ONE variety is "recycle-yes!" Clean plastic bags are "recycle-yes!"

But almost all other kinds of plastic bags and glass are "recycle-no!" In fact, the only thing that's really on their list is PAPER. They want all kinds of paper, including microwave dinner boxes. But - get this - you can't recycle the rest of the microwave dinner package. Similarly, they want pill canisters but no pill lids. Milk cans, but no milk lids.

Okay, about 90% of their recycling advice is about paper.

Paper is not worth recycling. It costs more than creating it new, it creates all sorts of nifty toxins, and paper not only biodegrades as fast as mulch, it also helps the REST of the trash to biodegrade (if layered correctly). Moreover, paper-making uses primarily paper-farm trees - we're not deforesting anything to create new paper.

Now I'm getting really steamed. I hate shit like this.

Okay, we're not allowed to have more than 10% by weight of recyclables. There's two solutions to that:

Throw non-recyclable stuff into the recycle bin or fill your recyclable cans, jugs, and paper with water (which is non-recyclable) before throwing them away.

I hate this kind of shit. This kind of government bloat. It makes me want to throw rotting things at politicians.

Seattle is bloat city. It's very nearly socialist. It's driving me insane!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

On a lighter note...

Nukees makes my day. I can't link to the particular comic, because it isn't in the archive yet, but, hey, if it's a different day, just read the whole archive.

Space, the Not-Quite-Yet Frontier


I'm a huge fan of space. I like astronomy, I love astrophysics, and I absolutely adore rocket science and space exploration. There is a steady trickle of people like me, but most of the geek population is closer to what you probably are: idly interested. Sure, space exploration is cool, but not as cool as (your field of choice here).

I'm far from being obsessive about it, but I keep very up-to-date.

Perhaps you've noticed NASA's "comedia incolumitas". NASA's ineptitude has grown to horrifying proportions. At the worst possible time.

In this era, civvy ships make tourist runs into space. NASA doesn't get into space at all. NASA gets $16 billion a year. The entirety of the project that produced SpaceShipOne was less than $40 million, last I checked. And had a payoff of $10 million that reduced that considerably. That was from SCRATCH.

NASA is the least focused, most painfully inept group I know about. Look at this:

In 2004, NASA blew $877 million on "Astronomical Search for Origins". Four BILLION on the space shuttle. Details here.

I've talked to people from NASA. All of them have been emphatically angry with the way NASA squanders money. Estimations seem to range from 90% wasted to 99% wasted. Given the accomplishments of Scaled Composites, that doesn't seem like a high estimate.

Functionally, NASA is useless and growing more useless.

Unfortunately, the commercial industry is barely fledgeling.

Over the next five years, there will be no space exploration.

For the next five years, the only things the public will hear about space is how bad NASA is bunging things up.

That is horrible. NASA is responsible - directly - for the murder of the idea of space exploration.

NASA desperately needs to change it ways. Not over the course of the next five years: NOW. Five years from now, commercial space exploration will hit the mainstream. NASA will then be obsolete. How can they not see this?

If I was in charge of NASA, which I'm not, and probably for very good reason, I would take drastic action. I think I would drop and burn the space station. Having saved six billion dollars, I would spend it on a hype campaign to end all hype campaigns, fueled by the loss of the station. Spend the next two years cleaning house - I want a 50% drop in cost-to-return. Then, spend all that cash in creating a new space launch system.

Can't find a way to improve efficiency? Burn the program. I don't care how "mission critical" it is. A billion dollars on aeronautic technology - totally mission critical. Probably deeply tied to fat corporations and the military. It cannot be saved. Burn it. Stard smaller, seed projects.

Yes, fire people. Yes, lay people off. Yes, cut back. NASA has been eating like a pig, regardless of the way it costs the idea of space travel. Right now, space popularity is pretty close to an all-time low, and NASA needs to turn that around or it will find itself burned to a cinder beneath the thrusters of the commercial space age.

Spend all the money you save on pro-space propaganda. If it's American and over the age of five, it should be able to tell you about how the solar system works. If it hasn't caught the space bug, you need to throw more money at it. Get that money from the horrifying wastes of red tape you call "projects".

Because, you know, NASA will listen to me. I'm the Elvis of project management.

Still, at least I got that off my chest.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Dear Yourself!Fitness

Dear Yourself!Fitness people:

You made a grave marketing error.

Let me give you some statistics. This is pirate copies of X-Box games available on Emule, a relatively popular file-sharing program. Since significantly less than half of the people who download a game from a file-sharing program then continue to share it, these numbers are only a fraction of the people who have actually gained copies through the system. In addition, people tend to keep sharing the games they like for longer. And, of course, this is only one of many file-sharing programs.

Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - 8 people
Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy - 17 people
Simpsons Roadrage - 28 people
Yourself!Fitness - 63 people
Jade Empire (extremely popular) - 90 people

You are doing well, according to the pirate ring.

Why have so many people downloaded your game while nobody bought it? I'll tell you why: it's FRICKIN GIRLY. NOBODY wants to buy a new-agey girly box, even gamer girls.

If you had marketed it differently, you would have sold ten times as many copies. Whoever in your group pushed you to target entirely on the imaginary "new-agey girly-girl xbox players" was a fool and cost you millions. The X-Box is the "manliest" of the three major systems.

We geeks have a very powerful hidden urge to get fit and attractive. That much is clear simply by the amount of pirating of this game, but it is also obvious to anyone who is a geek. If you had made your game a little closer to the mainstream, you could have convinced them to buy it.

It could have been simple. For example, injecting some fantasy into the game. Even if you wanted to avoid turning your teacher into a sex object, you could have had alternate graphics for the gritty gamer crowd that you needed to appeal to. Couldn't afford extra models? How about some extra backgrounds? Some alternative skins for the teacher? Or some alternate voice tracks? Even just making the backgrounds you had less... new agey... would have probably done well.

Sigh... the game was supposed to burn calories, not cash. If only you had done your market research!

Lesson learned: know who you're targetting, and if they even exist. I'll keep it in mind.

Burying Caesar

Yesterday evening was spent hunting for a particular mystery novel for my grandfather. I finally tracked down the "Seattle Mystery Bookshop" (or something like that). It was in a suitable place: underground, behind a metal fence, behind a concrete wall, with the door shrouded by deep holes in the pavement and construction barricades. Very picturesque. Too bad it closed half an hour before I got there. Is it me, or does closing that early seem like a very strange thing for a shop specializing in murders?

After that, I really didn't have enough time to do anything USEFUL, so I played some piano and drew the following. Then I watched three episodes of Monk. As I said, I didn't have time to do anything useful.

Funny thing, what takes forever. The figures didn't take much time, but the tote bag took half an hour. :P

The small version.

The large version.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Discover Pandora

I've got a soft spot for adaptive broadcasts. I've been trying Pandora, and so far it seems pretty darn impressive. I'll probably buy into it when my trial time runs dry.

But what it brings home to me is adaptive data. Really, I have no idea what kind of preference system Pandora uses to pipe music from its database. However, it is an excruciatingly interesting problem.

As you might know, I like restricting evil problems to a tiny subset of data, so that I can pull the core algorithm from them.

This is that tiny subset of data.

We want to talk about how to do language recognition or visual recognition? First lets get a really awesome preference system running.

Presume we have a list of things. Say, songs. We have a list of users who rate these songs as we deliver them (or, in not rating them, tolerate them, thereby rating them).

Our problem is that our database of music is not very good for defining someone's preferences. I just heard a song that was nothing but dischords and white noise in my "Vangelis" station. Why? "Harmonic progression and similar instruments". Que? What instruments? What progression?

Not their fault: the song was inadequately entered into their database. At least, according to MY needs... and in the world of adaptive data, my needs are all that matter.

Far more useful would be to tap the choices of thousands - hopefully tens of thousands - of other users who have already rated songs.

Many of them will probably have no taste at all, at least according to me. Anyone who likes rap or hip-hop is to be excommunicated from the church of Craig.

But some of them will have some of the same taste as me. And as I start rating songs, MY ratings and THEIR ratings will show to be similar. "Hey, they both hated DJ Hippy-Tip Badsongremix, but liked Dvorak! Let's pass this dude some of that dude's preferred songs."

Yeah? Cool? Cool? Data's not so nice to us, though. Think about it:

There are ten thousand users. Presumably, these users will fall into bands. For example, there will probably be a whole bunch of people who like "new age" music. Throughout that band of users, you'll get a spread of preferred songs - and a spread of not-quite-so-preferred songs that probably reflect something inside the genre that is simply bad music.

But there are other bands - some of which include that band. For example, I like "new age" music, but only for certain values of "new age". I'm a Vangelis guy. Give me classic synth and a melody, I'm happy. However, I also like most other kinds of music. Like classical. And rock. And jazz. And blues. And folk. And dance. And techno. And western (but not country). But only SOME of each.

I may be the only user with my preferences. However, out there in the sea of users are users which share SOME of my preferences. For example, there's this dude in Kentucky who really likes western, but not country. He hates classical and jazz, though, and he likes hip hop. Obviously, he can't be passed stuff directly from my preferences, and I can't be passed stuff directly from his.

What you need to do is take a kind of "spectrometer" reading. Seperate it out the same way we do for elements. "Carbon has this reading, radium has that reading, and this particular particulate cloud is therefore 70% carbon and 25% radium." Obviously, I'm not being scientific here. I'm just giving an example of the sort of terms we should be thinking in.

The dude in Kentucky is 70% "westernum" and 30% "hiphopogen". By having a spectrum of songs specifically for "countrinium" and "westernum", I can be assured that I don't get any countrinium. Sure, there's a lot of overlap, but that's true of spectrograph readings, too. It can be handled!

But what kind of insane analysis would that require? I'm not up to snuff on the matter - is this something we have a mathematical algorithm for? Or are we doing it by hand and need one?

Either way, this kind of analysis could be used in language, too. The difference is that language has an additional dimension in the data: whereas a list of songs is essentially an innumerable number of zero-dimension data points, language data points are multidimensional, and they aren't all polite about staying as distinct data points. Sort of like if every song in your database had ninety remixes.

Hm. Time for... research!

Oh, and...

Duhr. Forgot. Here's a page of sketches, just for kicks. Kudos to anyone who can identify my favorites. It's kinda big. I think I've finally found a pen setting I like - this was all on the tablet.


I now grok chord progression as well. It just clicked into place. As I said: a fun weekend.

Weekends and Finder

Long weekends are good. I got a lot done. COGENT is at a stage I can start implementing minds. I came up with an awesome new theory which I will probably spout later, when I've hammered it out.

I bought the last three trades of Finder. Chances are, you've read Finder. If you haven't, go to your comic store and buy it. It is probably my favorite ongoing comic. The lady who writes and draws it is named Carla Speed McNeil. While her style is far from flawless, it is very good and astonishingly human. When people use the pretentious term "speculative fiction", they really mean things like this.

Although saying "things like this" is pretty much gibberish, since, as far as I can tell, there aren't any "things like this". Just Finder.

I stopped reading it a bit over a year ago, when I had some severe problems trying to purchase it. You know how it goes. Now I've read the recent trades, and I'm still impressed by her work. Honestly, I was more impressed by the early books, especially Talisman. That was an awesome story. These recent ones are still good, they just don't have as much cohesion or emotional oomph.

Take Mystery Date. The story is actually very good, but it doesn't start until page 50. The first 50 pages are a myriad of short stories - REALLY short stories, not longer than a dozen pages. That's not really enough for me, especially since it's obvious she was playing around with anime art styles, and it didn't look right. From page 50 on it's a really great story - on par with Talisman.

Some people really like the book before that, "Dream Sequence". It has its appeal, and the art is spectacular - but I GREW UP with the premises she makes. It's old hat to me, and it was like watching an old werewolf movie: "yeah, yeah, he's transforming, get ON with it!" Still, well done.

The most recent trade, out last week, is called "the Rescuers". It seems weak to me. I'm going to re-read it, but I didn't feel any emotional punch. I'm a detective story fan, and it was a detective story. I can always smell a writer out of element. I think if I re-read it concentrating on it not being a mystery story, I'll have a better appreciation for it. It certainly highlights elements of the world rather nicely.

Even though it wasn't up to what I consider her best, "the Rescuers" is still worth the cover price - it's certainly better than most of the other stuff on the market.

Now that I've prattled on about Finder, let me just say, I am the king of Jotto. Wooo! It's a game where you guess your opponent's five-letter word, and they tell you how many letters are similar between the two. So if your word was "chunk", and they guessed "klutz", that's two similar letters.

I managed to guess the words "xenia" and "zoeae". I'm hotter than hot! Wooo! I am a superstar of the sport! Someone give me a medal and a seven-digit salary.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Its all in the Mind

There's been a "breakthrough" in natural language "interpretation".

It's unlikely that anyone reading this blog is as deeply involved with this sort of thing as I am, so if you read that entry, you're likely to think, "Oh, of course, it's so obvious! Just compare the syntax/context of a list of sentences!"

Mmmmm... nope.

The article is bullshit. It contains NO USEFUL INFORMATION.

People have been doing that kind of search since 1990, or earlier. That's not the breakthrough at all. If there is a breakthrough - and there might be - the article doesn't actually tell us anything about it.

Because the breakthrough would be in the method of representing the data.

Everyone who's tried to create a learning language parser has done the same kind of analysis that blog entry is touting as a breakthrough. The difficulty they quickly hit is: "How the hell do we 'compile' these sequences and differences into something useful?"

That is the difficulty this group might have beaten. Or, they might be full of hot air. It's totally impossible to tell off the article text.

On the surface, that doesn't sound all that incredibly difficult, does it? It's just, what, a list of words and possible next words? If we see "I want a first-class ticket" and "I want a coach ticket" then we can determine that "first-class" and "coach" are somehow related. So any time a sentence says something involving first class, we can assume it could also say coach? How about "this meal was first-class" vs "this meal was fantastic"? Suddenly, can you have a "fantastic" ticket, or a "coach" meal? How about a "speeding ticket"?

So you, what, create context domains? "Fantastic<->First-Class" is a food-domain relationship, "coach<->first class" is an airplane-domain relationship? How could it determine context domains? I guess you'd have to preprogram it, at least at first.

Simple word-after-word lists don't work. You'll need to have some kind of "contextual block" system which learns what kind of progression is valid and what kind of words can be in what kinds of blocks and what word-block combinations can link to which world-block combinations.

Then what you end up with is a titanic database of word combinations and relations inside contextual frameworks. We're talking millions, tens of millions of entries. How do you make entries? What are word blocks? How do you define them? How do you define their relationship with other word blocks? Is "I want" a word block? Or two? Is "I WE YOU IT THEY HE SHE" a word block? If so, the corresponding word block might be "WANT WANTS", or "WANT WANTS WANTED WANTING WILLWANT HASWANTED HAVEWANTED", etc, etc, etc. How do you determine which parts of the first block link to which parts of the second block?

Do you split them into multiple blocks? Maybe "I WE THEY YOU" is one block, and "IT HE SHE" is another, linked to "WANT" and "WANTS" respectively. But then you have both "WANT" and "WANTS" linked to exactly the same following blocks - so are you going to manufacture twice as many links and entries for this kind of setup?

What about the fact that you've heard "I WANT A TICKET" and "HE WANTS A TICKET", but can you extrapolate that "WE WANT A TICKET" is valid? Or "HE WANT A TICKET"? Or "I WANTS TICKET, STOOPID MACHINE"?

It's not as easy as it seems. The representation is excessively difficult.

I would be interested in the "breakthrough" these people have made, but I'm pretty sure it's something that's been thought of (and probably implemented) before.

My own approaches tend to revolve more around "functional" language use. IE, what does "I WANT A TICKET" actually accomplish? How about "I WANT AN APPLE PIE"? From that you can determine that "I WANT" relates to the talker receiving.

Of course, in COGENT we don't have natural language - we have reverse parsing. In some ways, that makes my life easier. In any case, creating individual knowledge bases and reverse-parsing a conversation will certainly be an interesting challenge. I think I'm going to use contextual frameworks, as touched on above. It's gonna be fun.

Kaloki, Halo, and Play Loops

A game is nothing more that a series of patterns. To keep the player's interest, around the time that the player masters a pattern, a new pattern is introduced.

Most games are nested play loops. For example, in Halo you learn how to move, then you learn how to explore, then how to fight, then how to manage your fighting resources, then how to work tactically.

Most games spike to the largest loop as quickly as possible. In Halo, they explicitly explain how to move and explore, because these aren't considered to be "critical play loops". This is largely because most of the people who will play Halo mastered these basic play loops long ago, on older games. These people have also largely mastered the fighting and tactical parts, too, but Halo introduces enough variation from the norm that the pattern of these play loops takes some time to master.

Thent he game takes the largest play loops and alters them. In Halo, they put you in new levels (well, somewhat), face new enemies with a new level of combat resources. This alters the pattern of the play loop enough that the player takes some amount of time to re-master this new variety.

However, any given play loop has only so much "area". For example, there's only so many ways you can face the same enemies with the same gun before you get thoroughly sick of it. Every player has different thresholds, and that threshold can be raised or lowered based on how invested in the game the player is, but there is no doubting that a play loop only has so many variations before a player gets sick of it.

Some play loops are larger than others, and it is relatively easy to extend play loops. For example, in Halo, they expand the main play loops by giving you a host of different enemies, a host of different guns, and a host of different methods of encounter, and a play space which changes with every enemy killed and every bullet fired. The area of the play loop is essentially determined by the number of ways these can be recombined in any given play through the loop.

Of course, the area of a play loop may or may not be accessable to the player at any given time. Although it is definitely possible to blow away enemies with a rocket launcher, that is not an option you have in the first level, because there are no rocket launchers. This is a standard approach: the area of the play loop is "bumpy", with high and low spots. The players naturally gravitate towards the highest highs (or the lowest lows, however you want to look at it). This means that, given the option, they'll never climb the "pistol" peak if always allowed the "rocket launcher" peak. So, even though the "pistol" areas in the play loop exist, they functionally do not, because few will enjoy being there.

The answer is, as I mentioned, restricting access. If you can't get a rocket launcher, you can't climb the "rocket launcher" peaks. Therefore, you climb the highest peaks available. Perhaps that is a pistol. Perhaps that is something else.

Restriction happens in all dimensions. When the game tosses specific enemies at you, it is forcing you to look a specific subset of its whole area, and you have to figure out how to climb the local mountains. It could allow you to navigate this dimension, but most players would feel extremely lost, since all they can see are slopes rising all around them. By confining the possibility space of any given play, they allow a player to see challenges without feeling lost.

What does this have to do with Outpost Kaloki? For that matter, what does it have to do with Frequency, Katamari Damacy, and Tetris?

As I mentioned at the beginning, most games have "critical" play loops and "noncritical" play loops. They give a quick tutorial for the noncritical loops to move players quickly into the critical loops. Really, that's what a genre is: it's a pack of pre-mastered play loops.

But the games I just mentioned don't do that. Most of the games the real gamers jabber about - the expert's experts - they have no extraneous play loops. They are clean, lean, playin' machines. Marble Madness. Dance Dance Revolution. That really cool racing game whose name I can never remember. NetHack.

These games have two or three play loops, all of which closely follow Pattern Adaptation Control methodology. Instead of ramping up to a new play loop when the first is mastered, they shunt back down to a newly altered original play loop.

In Katamari Damacy, there are two play loops: maneuvering and collecting. They are tightly bound together: when you collect something, it changes your movement, and you have to move to collect. In Tetris, there is only one play loop: dropping blocks. But it feeds back into itself.

Outpost Kaloki shows the strength of this kind of design, while also highlighting the differences. Unlike the other games mentioned, Kaloki is a "normal" game. That is, it depends on half a dozen play loops and balancing half a dozen resources. It's core play loop is not one which feeds back into itself in any meaningful way.

But Kaloki has carefully structured missions which restrict play space to a tiny fraction of the full play space. It "stripes" its way across its own play space, and with each mission there is a very different play loop. So even though it doesn't have the tight feedback loops of the memorable games of the industry, it SIMULATES these tight feedback loops.

This works great... for a while. But if you were to map Kaloki's play space out, you would see it has a very distinct and specific shape. This means that Kaloki only has so many "interesting permutations" it can show the player before, quite simply, it runs out of new space.

Therefore, they take very small slices. The new play loop is usually almost identical to the last play loop, just a few more things to manage. They make up for this with charming dialogue and fun characters, but without those characters, Kaloki would be a much weaker game.

Can you see the difference between Kaloki and Katamari?

Kaloki and Katamari both have a tilted play space: "bigger is better" is always true.

But Kaloki has a STATIC play space. All its hills and bumps are preprogrammed and change very, very little. Kaloki changes your experience by giving you slices of that static terrain, guiding you across it in new ways.

Katamari has a CHANGING play space. In addition to being wholly defined by the layout of any given level, the relative terrain of the play space changes every time you hit a bump. Therefore, Katamari changes your experience by letting you try ANY slice of that dynamic terrain.

That's the key to the prolonged popularity of all those games I mentioned: the terrain of the play space CHANGES DURING PLAY. It's a REACTIVE play space.

Kaloki really isn't. That's not a bad thing, but it means Kaloki can only hold someone's interest for a few hours before it simply runs out of new patterns for the terrain.


1) In a memorable game, all play loops are critical play loops.
2) In a memorable game, the play space changes during play.



I took a few minutes off yesterday to sketch out some color art. When I say a few minutes, I mean a few minutes: the first took maybe ten minutes, the second took maybe five. Please note: these were made in a dark room, so seeing them in a bright room framed in white darkens all the colors. Not that they were especially good even in the dark...

The First
The First's Lineart
The Second
The Second, Color Only

Later today: I dissect the case study that is: Outpost Kaloki.