Friday, July 31, 2009

Google Wave account

Recently, you applied for a Google Wave developer sandbox account. Your
sandbox account is now ready.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Waiter, there's Narrative in my PCG.

Another rather interesting post by Andrew Doull regarding the function of narrative in games had me thinking today. I really enjoyed the article, but there seemed to be 2 problems creeping in the back of my mind: Do AAR's count as game narrative, and does the metagame count as a narrative setting?

Firstly on to AARs. Ducked out at lunch for a finance meeting, which gave me some in-car time to dig into how AARs fit in my world picture. I made a recording on evernote on the way back, but it's pretty crappy quality.

To me, AARs really work well in a PCG setting because your 'story' that you experience in a single pass through the game is almost guaranteed to be a different story than someone else's play though the game. Your adventure begs to be told lest it be lost to fading memories. I've started a couple of AARs for specifically this reason and also weekly GameLogs for a more concise memory dump of my experiences.

AARs started out differently for me though. Back at Uni I was stuck in a Civ rut. I constantly played the game over and over and over. I absolutely loved the game, but after a couple of months and hundreds of games I had to stop and take stock. Why do I feel I need to keep playing this game? I've beaten it so many times it's not funny. When I analysed what I was doing I was constantly learning from each playthough on how to beat the game even better, or would think that a false move back in the stone age was what caused my space race defeat. What I needed (well, craved) was that perfect game. It never felt like I'd completely mastered the game until I played through it flawlessly. With a new determination I set out to defeat it once and for all, on the hardest setting, in the quickest time. I managed it within a week through countless reloads and, satisfied, could put the game down and get onto other things (like uni).

A funny thing happened though. About 3 months later I started up another game of Civ. It wasn't on emperor setting like before. It wasn't even the optimal race. It was just a casual game on monarch that I actually enjoyed for the story thrown up by this wonderful randomized world. Once I had 'broken' the game I could then look at it in another light. Instead of seeing numbers and optimal choices, or minmaxxing reloads, I could relax and go with the flow of the grand story that played out by my choices. This is the mode that makes me write (and appreciate) AARs.

All of my AARs are at least the second play through. I still have to break the game to get that competitive element of my brain out of the way, but then I can really savour the game as it unfolds and add my own imagination to the tale.

Imagination. To me this is where the arguement of AARs as a confirmation of narrative in PCGs falls down. Andrew stated:
My experience with roguelikes suggests external agency is not a requirement. Narrative exists in roguelikes in two forms, in a similar ‘what I’ve already done’ and ‘what I have to do’ form (it would be disingenuous of me to omit the fact I’ve chosen a narrative theory that provides this correspondence). The ‘what I’ve already done’ consists of after adventure reports (AARs) and day in the lifes (DiTL) written by players of roguelikes and posted to the forums and shared with other players
AARs aren't just the narrative of the game, but embellished with the imagination of the writer to create the story in a narrative context. Great AARs like Boatmurdered or Real men do it Alphabetically could quite concievably have been run-of-the-mill games with no real epic tale to be told. The imagination and additional information added to create the scene and a sense of 'being there' comes from the author, not the game. The game is the framework on which the story is built. The story resonates with other players of the game because they have shared the same exposure to the game's framework. In great AARs you can see the game shine through the writing and you can visualize not just the story on the page, but how the game could have played out at a deeper level.

In my experience, letting go of the 'game' and accepting the 'story' is a mindshift. Some games make it easier than others to do, but I have yet to see a game write my story like I would have in an AAR. Masters of Orion III had that as one of their goals; to write out the story of your reign as a book so you could read what happened and how the rest of the galaxy reacted. Unfortunately that idea got canned (with a bunch of original employees) and the lame duck came out without its golden egg. I still think it's an achievable goal in PCG, maybe even the holy grail: To make a game that writes your epic tale.

I still think narrative exists in PCG, but expressed in terms of ‘what I’ve already done’, the AARs would show that the game inspires tales and creates a setting for them, but doesn't create them. And, from my experience, games with random content do poorly at summing up what went on (I live in hope though).

Hmm, past midnight and I haven't even started on permadeath. Might make this a quick one with some followup later on ..

To me I think that permadeath brings a lot to the table when playing through PCG games, but I'm not sure about extending the narrative to the metagame. Permadeath bring a sense of emotional energy to the fight akin to playing poker with real money rather than play money. Something is at stake. Your investment in the character. The time. The attachment. The trinkets they have collected. I vividly recall my brother throwing his mouse across the room and ranting when he lost his 99 warrior in hardcore Diablo II. You don't get that in normal D2. The sheer brutality of permadeath makes the journey and reward that much sweeter once you have completed the game.

The roguelike narrative of a single play through is united, I’ve argued elsewhere, by the meta-narrative of repeated interesting and hopefully unique failure which guides the player’s learning of the rules of the game.
Personally I'd put learning the rules of the game under ludology. When I'm in game breaking mode I'm playing the game as a puzzle; the content and story are far removed from my enjoyment of the game. In this mode I'll keep playing the game over and over if I feel there's more to learn. Once I'm over the game breaking mode and can settle into the game as a story I'm not looking for replayability, I'm looking for a single pass through an interesting set of events. I think, no, I know PCG games can do that because I do it regularly with games I'm happy I've beaten (*bands, Civs, Footy Managers, Mount & Blade, Total War, etc).

What PCG games have in spades is the interestingness that inspires repeated play. To me this tugs at the wanderlust gene. "I wonder what's over the next hill? down the next level?". Coming back to resonance as a narrative element, I see that the interesting set of events and the unpredictability of what can happen next keeps us heading out on the next glorious adventure. Bilbo Baggins would be proud.

Monday, July 27, 2009

GameLog 104

King's Bounty (16h) - VRBones, 6 mage. Picked up King's bounty and Hearts of Iron II in a 50% sale on steam for ~$25. I'm really getting into KB now. Even though the story is typed and it feels like something to skip through, the game has a good atmosphere about it. Played an all-nighter on Saturday, so that's a good enough sign for its addictiveness. First major boss battle completed, and I'm surprisedyou can't use the rage box. Wierd decision by paradox. Cleaning up some skipped quests on the first island before venturing forth.

BloodBowl (7h) - Almost finished the first cup with Sore'Uns, but it was just getting too easy in realtime mode. Wins of 15-1, 16-0 etc. Game crashed after 16-0, so I left it at that. After a bit of reflection I restarted a classic game with the Lizardmen again. Going to use rerolls to counter the insanely frustrating dropsies. Won 3 matches so far and nearly compleded the cup.

Hearts of Iron II (7h) - Heared a bit about Hearts of Iron III on the strategy podcast 3 moves ahead and wanted to check it out. Played through most of the other paradox games, so the interface and nomenclature wasn't much of a surprise. Still too ~2hrs for the tutorial. Started the coral sea scenario to get my feet wet in a limited context, but quit once I lost a cruiser with little chance of production. Starting a new 1934 campaign as Australia. Going full air for an alternate history.

Facebook Poker (2h) - Couple more tournaments. Over 90K now.

World of Goo (1h) - Cameron's getting into World of Goo again, and Mum had a go.

Paper toss (1h) - Best iPhone game so far. Just simple, yet really addictive for a 5 minute filler.

iPhone games (1h) - assorted freebies.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Full Immersion 2025 - A vision of the future


A casual Diigo link to the Colorado Virtual Academy this afternoon had me interested. I'm always on the lookout for virtual learning environments that match my ideas of the way to the future, and this link just kept ticking the boxes.

First off I noticed "An individualized approach to learning". Now that term has been bandied about a lot recently without really any substance to it, but paired with a virtual environment it is possible and a main goal of my VR dream .

A bit further down the page and another cathphrase pricked my ears: "An ideal fit for accelerated learners". Having completed an assignment last term on how to manage gifted and talented students in the current curiculum and also the implications of accelerated learning in a VR environment, it seemed likely that we might be on the same wavelength.

Digging into the accelerated learners section confirmed my suspicion: "The K-8 curriculum is mastery-based, enabling students to advance when they're ready—not when the rest of the class is." Wow. First time I've seen that type of thought expressely used in an established learning institution. I'm excited!

Looking deeper into the K-8 curriculum I find another component of my model: "And with more than 700 lessons per subject, he can dive deeply into areas of interest." Yes! A curriculum exploded into bite size chunks. No real indication of a meshed list of prerequisite skills, but nothing to the contrary either.
Opening up the individual courses it starts to sound more like an ordinary school approach. I got excited that "From helping younger students make the link between the concrete and the abstract to introducing older students to Algebra" might mean having an intrinsic peer mentoring approach, but upon reading it again it's really just showing the breadth of the whole course.

A phrase appeared a couple of times that didn't really make much sense: "Big Ideas + Consecutive Down Payments + Practice = Mastery". Found out a little later on that the downpayments are the stepping stones to the big ideas. Makes more sense now and shows the benifits of an adaptive curriculum.

Through tea I was really excited on how close it matched my model. The closest by far. I dug up a blog of Bror Saxberg for my google reader and the first article caught my eye: "A vision of the future", where he expands on his participation in a published article on how 10-year olds will learn in 2025. This article is amazing! It's like reading something I would have written myself. Our visions of a future educational environment through VR are almost identical!

I really like the implementation of the helper AI (yoda). I'd dumped most of the AI elements from my model as I wanted it to be as believable as possible to the Uni lecturers I was presenting the model to without having to explain the intricacies of tracking AIs, shadow AIs, Tutor AIs and helper AIs (which was a big part of the vision in my early days; I guess that's because AI was a big hobby for me back then). I still think that a yoda helper AI is still further off than 2025, but then again it depends on the scope of something like Project Natal. Having AI's able to learn standard answers from real teachers and tutors would then be able to fill in forums / FAQ sessions in the absence of a real tutor. I had always envisaged helper AIs saying things like "You answer is most likely ..." to give the relative confidence to the learner on the veracity of the answer given, and being able to show the pieces of information that made that assumption if questioned.

For me the big part for AI's to play is through "shadowing". For every student you have a shadow AI that attempts to emulate the thought processes of the student. It tries to predict what questions the student will get right, what they get wrong, etc. With those "aha" moments in learning where the patterns and processes finally click into place, there will be a big positive spike in the error between the shadow AI and the student. This can be used to trigger the next phase of learning. The shadow AI can also be used for system wide testing, where it can be interrogated and compared to other student's AIs for help in choosing the next course to take. Bror's vision seems very close, but relying more on the student's actual results to make the system learn how to educate that student better.

The role of educators in both systems seems very much inline. I think that through the Uni course I'm concentrating more on allowing different learning styles to be catered for through the variety of courses on offer to achieve the same skillset, whereas Bror focuses more on deep database analysis.

Deep database analysis is one area where Bror's model seems more advanced than what I had imagined. His use of data mining techniques to shape the curriculum seems more solid than the shadow AI approach. Both systems would compliment each other though; shadow AIs would just give more data for analysis.

So pleased that I found this link and Bror's ideas. I'm over the moon that someone has demonstrated what I'd been contemplating for a long time. Well, not everything's implemented yet, but with someone at the helm with such a closely aligned vision I can see exactly where the boat is going...
I want on ...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

GameLog 103

Facebook Poker (12h) - worked up to ~70k, then lost about 60k on the iPhone interface. Picked up another ~50k on the weekend.
Bejewelled Blitz (2h) - still not sure what the best strategy is. Vertical matches seem to get more action above the match and more penetration down to the bottom stale section, but they take longer to drop. It seems very random whether you get 50k+ or 10k with almost the same type of movs
BloodBowl (2h) - Another flogging in blitz mode 11-3 to the good guys.
iGo (1h) - First iPhone game that I paid for. Plays a fairly decent game of go, and keeps the table the same so that you can play a couple of turn and then put it away. Going to be good in the long run.
Paper toss (1h) - Best iPhone game so far. Just simple, yet really addictive for a 5 minute filler.
iPhone games (2h) - assorted freebies. Just hunting through the appstore in catchup mode. Some are Ok, most are variants of online games.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A grading system for comparing tournament stuctures (part 2)

This article is the second in a series on designing a tournament:
Part 2 - A Grading System (this article)
Part 3 - Calculation of Win Percentages

A Grading System
Although I set out what I think are the boundaries of tournament systems (that of single elimination and league) at the end of the previous article, in this section I want to come up with a meaningful method of comparing the disparate tournament structures in terms of its ability to rank players, the desirability from a player's and spectator's perspective, the resources that it uses, the inherent tournament bias, and the individual matchup bias. Some of these (like resources) are a known quantity and can be mathematically compared, but others may stray into subjective territory. If there is no hard number accessible, a rating system will rank the specific tournament on a scale of A to E against the other tournament systems, where A is the best for that particular section and E is the worst. Lets start with some easy ones first:

Even though location impacts on time eventually as a resource, there are still some benifits in having the 2 separate resources listed so that situations with ample amounts of one resource can choose appropriately. The first value is minimum time to complete the tournament. As I would like to compare the difference between one match and best-of-3 matches at a later date, the match length is used as the discrete unit of measure. An example will be an 8 man single elimination tournament has a minimum time of 3 match lengths, whereas an 8 man league has a minimum time of 7 match lengths (calculations formally defined later on).

Although it doesn't neatly cover the dilemma of limited locations, the number of matches in a tournament gives an indication of the size of the problem. An 8 man single elimination tournament is completed in 7 matches, but an 8 man league takes 28 matches.

Another way of demonstrating the time increases imposed by limiting locations is by recalculating the total time taken if only 1/2 the locations are available for a tournament of that size. This would give single elimination an increase from 3 to 4 match lengths for an 8 man tournament in contrast to an 8 man league going from 7 to 14 match lengths. [Maybe represent as a proportional increase?]

Tournament ranking ability:
A simple count of each unique rank given to participants should suffice. A 16 man single elimination tournament provides only 5 ranks(1st, 2nd, =3rd, =5th, =9th), whereas a 16 man league will rank all 16.

Inherent Tournament Bias:
Now it starts to get a bit tricky. A couple of years a go I developed an application to measure the inherent bias of a tournament structure against a competitor being ranked at his true skill. An extreme example of this is if the best player took on the 2nd best player in the first round of a 64 man single elimination tournament. The person who should have come 2nd will now come =33rd. The program takes a template of a tournament system and runs thousands of trials using random seeding and with competitors playing at their true skill to gain an average bias per player. An example would be a 64 player single elimination tournament having an average bias of ~0.59 levels after 100,000 trials.

[updated 15/7/09]
The unit chosen is a level of a single elimination tournament. This means that being misranked as 2nd to =3rd is the same importance as being misranked =17th to =33rd. This feels about right as the importance for accurately placing the top players has more perceived bearing on the bias of the tournament.

Using a Base 2 logarithm we can formalize the meaning of a 'level'. Log2(16) = 4, Log2(32) = 5, log2(64) = 6 etc. So someone who has a true skill that ranks them 32nd would receive an expected value of 5, but if they finish in 16th they receive an actual value of 4. The difference (1) is the same as finishing up a 'level'. So the formula for player bias is:
Player finishing bias = abs(log2(expectedPosition) - log2(finalPosition))
With a formula not reliant on the actual levels of a tournament, it allows the average tournament bias to compare totally different tournament structures as long as you know where players were supposed to finish compared to where they actually did.

Individual Matchup Bias
Although the bias should be able to be estimated once the situation is known, these factors by and large impact on all systems equally. I might leave this section as a special notes category to highlight specific independant matchup issues (such as robustness for home/away bias) until there's a standard way of presenting these types of bias across all structures.

Player satisfaction
This grade will need to be tempered with some subjectivity, but there are 2 areas that can be measured: average number of games played and the closeness of the competitor's skill levels. Average number of games played helps give an indication of how many rounds a player can expect to stay in the tournament and is a ratio to the minimum number of rounds of the tournament to normalize the result. Leagues would have 1.00 as players participate in every round (barring finals, leagues with finals will be analyzed seperately) whereas an 8 man single elimination tournament gives ~0.37.

The closeness in competitor skill should indicate both a greater potential for a close game and a greater potential for learning in a competitive environment. I'd like to collect some solid evidence (or even lots of circumstantial evidence) that this is the case, but it feels right from a what I've observed. Maybe it's a cutoff thing instead of proportionally based? I'll need to adjust the program to output this result anyway, so I'm open to suggestions.

Spectator satisfaction
Not sure what I can do in terms of measuring entertaining play, but close matches can glean off the closeness in competitor skill grade, with possible emphasis on the final games [logarithmic?]. The high degree of skill would emphasize tournaments that gave maximum opportunity to 1st and 2nd to play each other, and a logarithmic dropoff after that. [Very close to tournament bias?]

In the next couple of articles I'll look at the more common tournament structures and see how they stack up. I'm sure I'll be back onto this page at some point to tweak the grading process to more aptly fit the criteria. [should wikify it?]

Part 3 - Calculation of Win Percentages

Designing a tournament (Part 1)

This article is part of a series on designing a tournament:
Part 1 - Designing a Tournament (this article)

Spent a bit of last week involved in a few discussions about ranking systems used in competitive computer gaming. This reminded me of an application I had virtually completed to calculate the bias of different types of tournament systems, but I hadn't written up the results. Hopefully this series of articles will address that.

Ever since the second season of QGL back in 1998 I've been designing and analysing tournament systems for use with computer games. Back then there was a great focus on player satisfaction as a goal for the type of tournament to run as we wanted to maximize the enjoyment and participation of players throughout the season. We developed a matching system akin to swiss to be run across several LANs that enabled players to compete against people of their rank and be resilient to players/teams dropping or joining the tournament.

As AusGamers grew to a national body for organising tournaments, we dabbled with finals formats consisting of mainly double elimination. At that time the format was relatively new on the scene, but it held up remarkably well to a number of concerns we had for finding a winner from disparate states in an efficient manner.

Through involvement running the Australian leg of CPL and WCG, a number of other systems were reviewed and the shift to a more spectator oriented position could be seen emerging through the formats chosen. As a keen advocate of double elimination at the time, I was a little disappointed in WCG's insistence on pools of players competing against each other with the top 2 advancing to a single elimination tournament. I could see the reasons why that type of structure was chosen, but believed that it was an inefficient method. I spent another 5 years involved with WCG (partly as Australian tournament director designing my own tournaments, and later at international level as head referee) and had continued to seek ways of eliminating bias.

There's got to be others in the world that have gone through a similar upbringing and who share a passion for tournament design. Hopefully these articles can stir up some debate so that we can develop a body of knowledge about how best to design a tournament for future competitions.

What makes a Tournament?
Wikipedia currently does an Ok job of defining what a tournament is, but not why it exists. What are the goals of a tournament? For me, the primary goal of a tournament is to provide an objective method for finding the competitor with the highest true skill. Who's the best gathered here today? As an adjunct to that, a tournament should also do its best to rank all competitors by their true skill. This becomes especially important when there are rewards given to lesser places.

There are also 2 other goals of varying degrees of desirability that depend on the context of the tournament: player satisfaction and spectator satisfaction. Players wish to derive satisfaction by playing as many games as possible, by being treated fairly, by being exposed to learning opportunities, and by demonstrating their skill to others, whereas spectators want to see entertaining play, close matches and a high degree of skill being displayed. Ideally these goals should be maximized and can shape the type of tournament selected, but not at the expense of its primary goal otherwize it's not a tournement (EG: WWF as a spectacle, handicapping for social play). These will hopefully be expanded upon in future sections.

True skill in a competitive sense is defined as the competitor's own abilities in the game being tested. Ideally everyone should be able to demonstrate their true skill each time they play, however a number of factors can cloud a player's true skill to produce a bias in the final result of each match in the tournament. Another topic for later, but it's mentioned here as acknowledgement that they exist. Initially when analysing tournament structures we will assume that players are able to play flawlessly to their true skill so that they will always win a matchup with someone of lower true skill.

The perfect tournament for me would be one where every competitor is able to play every other competitor simultaneously (but individually) and complete the match instantaneously, while playing at their true skill. Obviously this could never happen, but that type of tournament would be able to state with certainty who was the best competitor at that specific time and place. In reality there are biases all over the place, having to wait for your rounds, having to play people coming off a losing streak or winning streak, not playing everyone, etc. All are biases inherent with the tournament system that you choose. Understanding these biases and choosing a specific type of tournament structure that minimizes bias is at the heart of tournament design.

The final part of the puzzle is resource management. You are almost always going to be constrained to complete the tournament in a specified amount of time. If you can complete the tournament in a shorter amount of time then there are many ways to enhance the tournament to address bias issues or cater to secondary goals. The other main resource is the amount of locations available for matches to be played simultaneously. Not having enough locations for each round will impact on the total time taken for the tournament, however increasing the locations may be impossible or too costly.

Decisions, Decisions:
So, we want to deliver an objective ranking of all competitors while maximizing player and spectator satisfaction, minimizing bias inherent to the tournament structure or to individual matchups, and maximizing location use and time. No worries! Where do we start?

First port of call is to look at the resources you have and the anticipated players to see what types of tournaments are possible. Try single elimination initially as there will be no tournament structure with less resource usage for a competitor vs competitor style tournament. If you still don't have enough resources you'll need to cull the amount of players eligible or beg for more resources and use single elimination.

Next try a league format. If you can fit in a complete league then your tournament biases will be largely minimized, however the resources and time needed make these a rarity in most LAN and computer game competitions. You are most likely going to come out somewhere in the middle; more than enough resources for single elimination, but less than a full league. In this space there are a bevvy of different tournament structures to choose from, but little to no information to gauge how efficient each type of system is.

So how do you choose which is the best system for you? In the coming articles I hope we can come up with a grading system to compare tournament structures against each other in terms of bias and desirability and then explore what each type of tournament structure brings to the table.

Part 2 - A grading system

Monday, July 13, 2009

GameLog 95 - 102

Big break for GameLogs, mainly due to Uni assignments. Not sure how accurate my memory is going to be over 7 weeks, but here goes:

UnAngband (30h) - Competition run over June with many characters making the sacrifice in an attempt to finish in the least amount of moves. Was a little surprised how few people entered the competition as it was a great way of focusing on the game.

Pokemon Platinum (15h) - Kinda picked it up for Cameron, but it's still a little too wordy for an illiterate 4 year old. Bit dissappointed it was a rebadged Diamond/Pearl, but past where I got up to in tat one through ignoring most of the side games.

Trackmania Nations (10h) - one of the consistent games through the Uni period. A quick race after coming home to relax.

Baldur's Gate: (6h) Ben, Levi and Joseph come over on the weeken to restart the BG campaign again. Another 3 hours of setting up PCs for ~3 hours of play.

Bloodbowl (5h): Latest purchase. Turn based mode is INCREDIBLY frustating when your turn ends when failing to pick up the ball. used to playing Dark Elves in the real game and the agility meant I really didn't have to worry about that as often. Considering playing blitz mode purely for that reason. Have some Saurons about to win their first league.

Mount & Blade (2h) - Really need to get back to the Tales of Ymira storyline. Decided I my as well wait until I had a kingdom and restart from there.

World of Goo (2h) - Bit further through the campaign. Nearly completed now.

Guitar Hero III (2h) - Pulled out the old one on Cameron's request after he spent the day singing "I, wanna rock and roll all night! And party every day."

That'll do for now. I'll add more if I think of any.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Test post

Test for emailing

(Sent from my iPhone)

Friday, July 03, 2009

UnAngband competition post-mortem

The UnAngband competition is over, and although it looked like I came in second, I really didn't have the time to fully get into the game with assignments and Uni bearing down on me.

To contribute to the post-mortem, here's a few things I liked / disliked about this variant:

+ stacking rules It really helps satisfy what you think you should be able to carry. It may not be practical to think of how you would carry 12 rods of cure medium wounds, but in a game sense they all serve the same function and are seen as equivalent.

+ Bags and quiver. These really help bring more use to lower level items once you're deeper in the game. It's a tough choice between bringing along a staff of perception or a bag of scrying, whereas scrolls of identify simply don't match the staff.

- Sometimes Bags of holding would be named instead of the item inside it. Eg: you walk over a mushroom and it says "you have picked up a magic bag of helpful mushrooms" instead of the type of mushroom it was. Minor code cleanup I'd say.

+ Rune system. It has the gottaCollectEmAll vibe going. I felt I had to hoard every rune I found purely for the promise they brought even though I only got to craft one item. I was also hoarding useless items in the hope that there was a way of extracting runes from them at a later date. Still haven't found out whether that is the case or not yet.

+- coating system. I really REALLY liked the coating system at the start, but I rarely used it once past the initial stages as you couldn't coat any branded/ego stuff. It certainly lifted the profile of detrimental items, but I didn't really see the negative impact of using up a resource on enhancing any weapon for a limited time.

+ Themed dungeons. I've never been that far into the game before, but the themed dungeons really give a better sense of realism to each area. I still believe that there's more room for improvement and I'd like to see the dungeon creation make levels with more meaning. I liked the change in intensity of some dungeons too. I really liked the towers as they reminded me of playing Lost Soul characters, but with the added bonus of having everything packed into a screen size, scryable shape.

- Weapon damage calc. I'm not sure what variant had damage calculations for monster types (might have been FuryBand?), but I really would have liked to have seen an aggregate damage representation somewhere to figure out whether a ring of damage (+8) was better or worse than a ring of Acid (x2). It used to be on examining your wielded weapon and would list the damage for normal monsters, resistant monsters, etc. I also never figured out what a good skill in throwing did for you instead of your skill in shooting apart from the throws per round.

++ ID system. I'm an info hoarder and most of my characters tend to value information gathering very highly. I really enjoyed the sensing of items and then the division of identification by gauging, sensing, IDing, Loreing, etc. Really played out well for the early stages and enhanced by bags of scrying later on. Also really well done was figuring out what something was by using it or being exposed to situations that could tell you what it was (like being hit by a fireball then figuring out that an unID'd item may be fireproof).

Thursday, July 02, 2009

iPhone 3GS

So .. I got an iPhone. I've caught myself a couple of times wanting to talk about it in conversations and idly playing with it in the presence of others. It's not glory seeking, but because I'm finally seeing a device that can really track what's happening in my life. Multiple email accounts? check. Work and home calendars? check. Auto wifi preference? check. Twitter / facebook? check. Blogging from anywhere? next thing to check.

It's like that Skype feeling. I've used a fair amount of phones to set up mail and calendars, but they all seemed to be a kludge. Finally it feels like it's easy to do, easy to check, like the phone is working for you as a tool rather than having to spend effort forcing it to what I wanted.

That said there have been some oddities that had me scrabbling for google to find the answer.

iPhone things I wanted to know:
How big is the video I just took?
- So far the only way I can find out the size is by hooking it up to a PC and browsing the DCIM directory. What if I wanted to MMS it on the fly? To me this is a problem of intentionally cutting off access to the real OS and just giving buttons as an interface. There are other things leading from this too. It asked me whether I wanted to location tag the pictures I took, but there's no way of seeing those tags in the picture viewer, or the time, or the size, etc.

How do I add another Calendar on the iPhone itself?
- I had initially linked up to my work exchange and was quite happy to see 2 different calendars appear (although one was a temporary one I use for tranferring bookings). Now I wanted to add another calendar for my personal stuff. In other apps there's an 'edit' button in the top right corner of the display to change things like that, but alas there isn't anything like that in the calendar. Not sure if it removed the ability to have multiple calendars because I had already hooked up to exchange? It also clobbered the existing calendar on the phone with my default exchange calendar too. Interesting assumption. Finally made up a personal calendar on google and linked it in, which in the end was my preferred solution, I was just a little miffed that there wasn't an alternative for people without multiple calendars already.

How do I change the colour of the calendars?
- After bringing in my Google calendar, it chose a maroon colour for its appointments. The only thing is that the existing calendars are red (main one) and orange. The colours are distinguishable when seen on the same screen, but close enough for confusion if there is an appointment by itself. In the end some troubleshooting revealed that the colour should be picked up by iCal. Sure enough Google's colour was red, and changing it to green synced up fine. Problem solved!

How do I subscribe to a podcast on iTunes on the phone?
Fiddling around with iTunes on the phone I realised that I could potentially do away with another annoying issue. Since I have both iTunes at work and at home and I susbscribe to slightly different podcasts from both machines, I've had to manually sync my iPod to each machine and take care not to overwrite a 1/2 listened to episode. If I can subscribe to the podcasts I want to listen to straight from the phone and gather the downloads over wifi, I don't have to worry about iTunes on the dsktop any more! Sadly I still can't find a way to do it.

More questions to come I'm sure ...

Layar: Augmented Reality

Andrew mentioned the compass as the biggest addition to the iPhone 3GS, and maybe it will be in the long run. I'm certainly all for augmented reality, but I'm guessing it's still a while off. Instead of house prices, I would have thought socializing would have been the first cab off the rank...