Sims Anti-Social

So, as part of my research into Gamification, I signed up for EA’s new attempt to milk the cow of The Sims a bit more. A little while later, my Facebook inbox looked like the below.

To clarify, I don’t have any problems with my friends who have sent me requests, I have a problem with the way the game gives you incentives that eventually turn into this. I find it anti-social and put me off playing it. Encouraging you to engage with your friends is a good thing. Stacking up thirty requests at a time isn’t.

computing Current Affairs


The google+ debarcle rages on.

Schmit claimed that Google+ was an “Identity” service, and the world would be a better place if people had to go by their full names. However.

A system that assumes that everyone can use their real name is broken.

A system that assumes everyone has one unique real name of two distinct word parts is broken.

A system that removes alternonymity and claims this makes the world safer is broken.

A system that stops you using your *phone and voicemail* because Google’s customer service department don’t like your name is broken.

When I was at school, denying people access to things everyone else could use because you thought they had a silly name was bullying.

Computer Games

The God In The Spinning People

(Deus Ex – Human Revolution)

My spacial awareness tends to get in the way of enjoying runny-hidey games. I never really got into any of the Thief games, and while I was impressed at how shiny the original Deus Ex was, I kind of bounced off it. I was impressed with a game that allowed you to get your legs shot off with the result that your viewpoint was lower and slower until you healed.

It amuses me that in the rest of the genre you have your basic human badasses (Duke Nukem type), or your hard-suited combat droids (Halo type), and your fragile cover-seeking soilder types (Medal of Heroes type), and the series where you are a generally a human with a series of increasingly badass and terrifying high technology augments is one where you’re one of the most fragile things in the world.

It took me a while to grasp the mechanics to the necessary extent. My first mission I spent dying a lot as I went “Sneaky sneaky sneaky, oops, spotted, better gun them down” and in turn got gunned down. It took me most of Saturday to finish the first mission, partly because of my own incompetance, but mostly because before the patch that hit on Saturday night, the loading times were hefty to the extent that I went and did something else while the levels loaded. Then I spent ages, defragging, system checking and optimising my system to see if I could make the load times tolerable. In a game where you can die in three seconds due to turning the wrong corner, it’s entirely beyond acceptable.

With the patch, it’s not noticeable at all, so that’s fine then.

I love the style, but I’m not fond of the graphics. This prequel is further-future than the original game was – which is a bit weird – and for all the city style is pulled out of Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner, the black and gold that fingerprints every screenshot as being of this game and no other is nice to see. In a field overrun with brown cities surrounding grey corridors, it stands out. The graphics I like less. The hand-painted face styles seem too gritty for the future they’re in. The soundtrack is heavy on the deep synths and plonky foreboding and constantly sounds like it was lifted from an alternative soundtrack to Mass Effect.

I’m not that deep into the game (Steam says I’m eight hours in, but a lot of that’s repeat) but the mechanics are working well. The game’s not out to trick you, and behind every mistake and every death is the solid knowledge that it’s the player who screwed up, and should do it differently next time.

Except boss fights.

I’m not generally a fan of boss-fights anyway, but in a game where I can run and hide and sneak around every enemy and every turret in the game, the boss fights seem like a massive hole. It’s like a nintendo game. You enter a room, the door slams behind you, and nothing will open until you find out how to beat him. Having levelled up on hacking and stealth and non-leathal death, being ripped apart like tissue-paper without a chance to outsmart the enemies in the way the rest of the game allows you just isn’t fair, and just isn’t fun.

The game’s fun, though. The mechanics are sound, the voice acting and writing not noticably awful and good in parts, and some of the locations are beautiful in their integral stories (Jenson’s apartment tells an interesting story), the quest hub areas are well designed and thought out, but the internals of buildings – where you spend a lot of your side-quest time – bland and templated.

The augment system is nice, and the ability to upgrade anywhere means I tend to save a few upgrade points in case, for example, I suddenly need to be able to fall from a high building in an emergency. Or lift a heavy crate I didn’t expect. Or shoot some unexpected dudes.

Anyway, despite being not a game-type I generally enjoy, I’m enjoying it a lot. Play Deus Ex.

food love


This is the second type of tea.

(Shot, Edited and posted using the iPad as an experiement)

Apple computing windows


I buy an iPad, and Steve Jobs resigns.

D’ya think I should start a Kickstarter project to get a Windows Mobile device?


Pad People

I’m not actually an Apple fanboy, really.

OS X is my preferred Unix GUI, partly because the development community has a higher background level of interface design. I had a Powerbook until my housemate bricked it with a glass of coke, I had an iPod until the case fell apart, the battery fell out, the hard-drive span out and hit the concrete and I merely had a collection of expensive electronic parts.  My brain finds Apple’s user interface decisions logical.

So I bought an iPad.

There was  a host of rationalisations around this. First, I pay for a mobile broadband contract anyway because the don’t-worry-about-it is worth a lot to me. Second, with the contract it was the cheapest I was likely to find one. Third, I’ve accepted a permenant position as lead developer of – upgraded from my previous contract – and can overbuy on a more solid footing. Plus, I really, *really* wanted one.

First impressions: Setup is as a giant iPod. You still have to connect it to sodding iTunes to make it do anything apart from sit there looking pretty. This is being fixed for the next major OS release, but it’s still an irritation.

I’m bored of entering my Apple ID. I’ve had to do so around fifteen times for various things (authorise iTunes for this, add Mobile Me account, add Gamecentre account, blah) which makes me wish for a centralised account system a-la android (I’m happier trusting the OS with login data than I am tin-pot organisations). Also, the decision to sync Mail, Notes & Calendar with gmail but not contacts, forcing me to screw around with pseudo-Exchange services, just seems petty.

A lot of the mindless crap I bought for my iPhone has magically appeared on the iPad, without any way of being able to tell if any of them have the ability to use the new screen resolution short of installing and booting them. (Really, Foursquare? Spotify? Guardian? Shazam? Tweetdeck? Still holding off on development until the iPad seems to be a success?) or which have decided that the iPad version should be a seperate app and you should pay for it twice (Thanks, Reeder). An awful lot Just Magically Worked (Dropbox, Evernote and WordPress’s iPad apps get special note here).

All in all it’s far more responsive than any Android-based tablets I’ve tried, and all I need to do now is carry it around for a while and work out when I bring this, and when I bring the Kindle.

Although I can already see I should possibly start looking at bluetooth keyboards…

Computer Games Random

From Dust to Ashes

I preordered From Dust.

In my defence, I didn’t realise it was an Ubisoft game, but when they announced that it wouldn’t have their DRM system that means you have to be connected to the internet all the time to play it, I figured it was fine, because I wish to reward such behavior.

Of course, they lied. The game forces authentication with their servers every time you start it, and reports state that if your connection goes during the game you’re screwed as well. On top of that, it’s locked to a low framerate and *still* chugs along occasionally. If it had been unplayable, I’d have asked for a refund, but if I’m willing to cope with The Witcher’s crashing, I can cope with this.

“This” in this case is a game descended from two interesting lineages. On the development side, you’ve got the bit where it’s by Eric Chahi, who made the classic Another World. On the other, you have the games most obvious and direct parentage: It’s the other side of Bullfrog’s Populous.

Bullfrog Productions, before they were swallowed and spat out by EA – who are still boiling the bones of Theme Park for new formats nearly fifteen years after original release – were partially famous for Populous, Populous 2 and Populous: The Beginning; a series of God Games which defined the genre. In them, you were a god who had to make people happy, and Black & White – formed by ex-bullfrog founder Peter Molyneux, who appears to have sold out to a different company who wish to drain the company for a single franchise – was clearly a descendant of these games.

From Dust has similarities. You control an abstract force, not able to interact directly with the people you control, but able to shape the land around them to help them achieve the goals that will keep them alive. You can drag earth to fill in lakes to cross islands to find spells to protect from tsunami. Part populous, Part Lemmings, with a dash of Darwinia thrown in for good measure.

The mechanics of the game are broadly that simple. Pick up clods of earth to build bridges and hills, douse fires by picking up water and flinging that. You can make more solid walls by dumping lava into water. The aim is to clear a path so that the Darwinians can get to another totem, around which they can build a village. Totems give you access to abilities to do things like temporarily douse all the fires, or turn some water into jelly for easier moulding.  Villages cause fertile areas to creep out from them. Fire trees follow that area of lush forest back to the village and burn it down. Water trees absorb water and flood the area if fire approaches. The mechanics are carefully balanced and introduced slowly over the campaign, sometimes never to be used again, apparently.

The controls are a bit twitchy, but solid and consistant. If I have a complaint, it’s that it’s hard to see when you’re going to be picking up earth and when you’re picking up the transparent layer of water over the earth you were looking at.

There are more ideas than fit in the game. Like World of Goo, it carefully introduces game concepts, teaches you how to use them, and then moves onto the next concept, never getting as far as the final exam. As such, it seems more like the start of a new set of games than a game in its own right.

Beyond the DRM, there are more technical problems. The locked framerate at 30fps isn’t great, but the inability to skip the level introduction when you restart due to a full wipe is close to unforgivable. Performing the optional objective of covering each map with foliage is inconsistant – sometimes you will do this accidentally while completing the objective, other times you can spend hours while the game is waiting for you to advance trying to work out why the foliage isn’t flowing to over here. The explanations are inconsistent, too. A freeze-frame and introduction to how fire trees work will happen in one place, but in another a new type of item that will create rivers until you cover it in mud is entirely unexplained.

Somewhere between a puzzle game and a god game, then, use the limited world-shaping powers at your command to advance the world of those who created you. For the price it was released at, it’s a worthy game, interesting and certainly worth the time. The launch, however, was ballsed up, the publisher lied outright, provaricated around actually explaining, and then went for the Orwellian “You have misunderstood what we said, here’s what we said” response, and I can’t recommend you reward this behavior. Which is a pity, because the developers do deserve it.

Buy it for the 360 instead.



It’s been a while since I redesigned the site, so I’m redesigning the site a bit.

I realise that the number of people who read this actually on Aquarionics is as close to zero as to make few odds, but I mention it anyway.



I’m clearing out the drafts folder for Aquarionics. All these come from posts that will never be finished.

Event. July 2010:

Last night, in between dreaming of the great hall of beds in Oxford University and arguing with my girlfriend about something her Maelstrom character did, I dreamed about a friend of mine attempting to control a group of thirty or so six year olds, hopped up on sugar, armed with rubber swords. They were screaming loud enough to crack the paned windows of the hall of beds (which were made out of “distilled glass”) and kept on crashing into priceless black vases. Dan was, apparently attempting to herd them to the next thing they had to do.

On a possibly related note, I recently spent three days reffing a larp event.

(Written and posted before I’d agreed to help ref Odyssey and WITW)

Not Useful, July 2010:, Please stop dragging your heels on domain name transfers. It’s petty and degrading, it makes you look desperate, and it just delays your customers and makes them ensure they won’t ever transfer back.

Bookmeme, August 2010:

“A book series you wish had gone on longer OR a book series you wish would just freaking end already (or both!)”

I’m not really very completist about book series. I’m fairly completist about cycles – if I read two books of a trilogy I’ll generally read the last – but if a series is bugging me I’ll generally give up on it without malice (or, when it’s fun, with malice. This will come up later). I stopped reading the Wheel of Time at around book three when my friends who were on the latest book at the time (7, maybe) said that nothing had happened, nothing was going to happen, and the wheel of time needed some kind of clutch control. I gave up on the Robin Hobb books after the Farseer cycle (I do appreciate the “What’s the worst thing that could happen right now?” method of keeping the plot moving, but I feel that the exponentially increasing weight class of the tragedies that befall the main characters was excessive. When the first chapter of the Liveship books set up the only thing the character had ever loved or could ever, I said that if that got destroyed in the first half of the book I’d give up. As I recall, I didn’t get past chapter two)

Clickity Clack, August 2010:

A few years ago, someone fullfilling my eternal desire for feedback described something I wrote as “kind of Douglas Adamsy”. They said a number of enormously good things about what I wrote.

I was taken aback. I was shocked and stunned. Chuffed to the mintballs, DNA being one of my favourite orderers of words ever.

I then promptly stopped writing for about six months.

Playing With Half Finished Things, August 2010:

last week, I was attempting to work on when I couldn’t. I ended up yak-shaving. In order to work on PiracyInc’s ship combat, I needed to fix a problem with the data model. The problem with the data model was that where it interfaces with sessions was causing PHP to segfault on any page without an associated user login. Somehow. Debugging a scripting language is usually pretty easy, because you can throw in debug statements and see where it gets to, but when PHP segfaults, it does so with no line numbers or anything. Somehow, something in PiracyInc, Plank (the PHP framework I built for PiracyInc to be on), the Database Abstraction library I’m using, or possibly even PHP itself, something is fucked. I decided that I was building too many storeys of this stack, and decided to switch to a framework.

Civilisation V, September 2010:


(Only had a title. I don’t think I stopped playing long enough to put my thoughts down)

The Tyrany Of Being Sold Things You Want, November 2011:

A man walks into a bar pub

The barman says “Oh, hello Bob, Pint of the usual? Or I’ve got this nice Espresso stout you’ll probably like?”.

What happens next?

a) “Sounds good, I’ll take a pint of the stout please, Mike. How’s it going?” “Well, I’ve ordered some scaffolding for the beer festival next week. Usually I borrow the local CAMRA stuff, but it’s all booked up at the moment…” and the evening carries on.


Have you spotted my delicate simile yet?

I’m aware that there’s a somewhat hypocritical bias against people making money online. If you display adverts, you’re selling out. My favourite was a site which ended up using content-covering pop-over adverts due to falling revenues, and the users complained – obviously – and then said they prefered the older, less intrusive ads because they were easier to block.

Yes, exactly.

I’m sure I had an idea for an actual argument there. Ah well.

Crazy, January 2011, in reaction to the shooting of congresswoman Giffords:

Did you know that crazy people have a detachment from reality?

Video games do not make people crazy.

Violent films do not make people crazy.

These things are established. We’ve done studies,

Gun sights on a poster do not make people crazy.

Status, March 2011:

Okay, so I’ve been a little busy recently. These are the things that have happened:

(End. I’m good at this blogging thing, honest)

The Routine, June 2011:

There is a morning, and my phone informs me of this. I lie back and attempt to reconnect from reality from the more entertaining world of dreams (My dreams at the moment tend to conflate the most recent Larp systems I’ve been playing with the computer games. Given that the Larp I’m overdosing on at the moment is Odyssey (a Miffic world of greeks, romans and gods) and the computer game is Bulletstorm (A game which gives you massive bonus points for firing a grappling hook at someone, pulling them towards you, shooting them in the crotch and then kicking them back into a cactus) this is currently on the surreal side of interesting).

I pick from the redundant array of inexpensive teapots (A system that insures that at any one time I should have at least one small teapot available, saving the terror of having to wash up before tea happens) while the kettle boils. Warm the pot. Dry it. Add tea leaves and then boiling water. Quick shower while it steeps. TEA.

Security, July 2011:

Imagine a world where there wasn’t a building code.

There was a really popular way of building houses, but you had to install the door properly, otherwise it could be opened with a credit card and a bit of skill. Now, imagine that this way of opening doors was well known and avoidable, but that even people building houses now still installed doors in the same way, with the same flaws, in a way that let anyone with a flimsy bit of plastic get into your house.

Now there is a guy, who is kind of a dick, and has a knack for getting people to listen to him. In order to demonstrate exactly how useless badly constructed doors are at defending stuff, he goes into some houses using this method, photocopies their financial records (easily enough for someone to commit serious identity fraud with them) and papers the neighbourhood with the copies.

Who is irresponsible for this? Is it the builders, the jerk, the people who live in the houses, or the people who commit identity theft?

Actually, it’s all of them. A culture where the people who hire the builders don’t think door security is their problem and that it’s somehow a “builder problem” are being irresponsible for the records inside, which they are holding in good faith, is making the situation worse. The jerk believes he is providing a public service by demonstrating that faith in doors is misplaced, but is still breaking into places and causing trouble mostly for people who believed the builders. People a lot like the jerk, in most places.

My thinly disgused metaphor for Lulzsec verses the world falls apart around here.


Right. That’s them deleted then, no more cloud of things I might want to finish over my head. With any luck I’ll finish more articles than I start from here on out.



So, I went to ref Odyssey again. Odyssey is a bit like this:

Odyssey Champions from bill thomas on Vimeo.

Only with also religion and philosophy at the same contrast level. It’s quite awesome.

The event went well. There are bits of the game we need to work on, some people need to hold a slightly higher standard of safety with regard to larp fighting. Most of my world – I’m the ref stationed at the Game Ops Desk – was fine save a slight lack of ability to delegate things and thus sleep. I will work on this for next year, because it doesn’t scale.

Also, I now have a Hat! It is bright yellow and says Ref on it. I am secretly very pleased with my hat.