In French, cats only have seven lives.
  2006-07-29 14:15 Z
Eve has an unusual skill system. In a typical MMOG like World of Warcraft your character levels up skills and power as you play. Kill more monsters, get more experience, get levels. The time it takes to level in WoW is fairly predictable, but players are rewarded for being online and grinding more often.

Eve isn't like that. In Eve your skills level whether you're online or not. And you don't level faster based on what you do; it's entirely based on the clock. If I set my character to train Battleship level 3, it will take 36 hours to get there. It will take the same time whether I'm busily shooting NPCs in my Battleship or not, indeed whether I'm even logged in.

At first blush this sounds crazy; where's the reward for playing? But it works very well. I never do some boring repetitive action to level up; skills train at their own pace. I can take a break from the game for a few weeks and not feel like I've lost anything. People with way too much time to grind don't gain a big advantage over more casual players. And older characters are uniquely valuable; they've had the most time to accumulate skills.

In WoW a primary goal is levelling up; in Eve it's just something that happens. That frees the player to concentrate on more complex goals like "develop a traderoute in Megacyte that makes me rich". I'm not saying Eve's better, exactly, but it's different. And it works.

  2006-07-25 17:22 Z
Online games are popular because they are social experiences. So it's that the most popular online game, World of Warcraft, has such poor social tools. I just picked up the game again after 16 months and if anything, the social tools are worse now than ever.

The basic social goal in the game is to find people to play with. And for that, you need to join a guild. But how does someone new find a guild? The main way seems to be you get randomly spammed by people saying "join my guild?" Needless to say, the quality of that experience varies. The better way to find a guild is to randomly group up with people you run across until you find someone you like, then stay with them. So pick-up groups are essential.

Here's where WoW got worse. The #1 tool for finding a pick-up group is the "looking for group" channel. It used to be chat there was local to your current zone so you were talking with people roughly your level doing the same things. But a recent patch made the channel global for the whole server. Now the channel is full of random spam and a bunch of people asking for groups way beyond my level.

The spam is bad (there's even a spam filter mod), but the bigger problem is the lack of a place to find people doing things similar to me. The patch has destroyed locality and LFG is now useless.

The other main problem is there's almost never a reason to actually do things with other people until you're level 60. The only group goal for newer players is doing quests together, but it's hard to find quests in common in the first place and the moment someone plays for an hour when their friend is offline they get ahead and the friend can't catch up. Very awkward.

Then again at 6.5M users WoW is doing something right. My theory is there's just enough social contact to keep people happy, but it's really the scripted content and Pavlovian level rewards that keep people going.

  2006-07-23 16:54 Z
I was curious about how many tags people put on their photos in Flickr and whether more tags help you get into interestingness. So using their fabulous api I wrote a quick program to count the number of tags for photos in interestingness and compare them to photos in the huge FlickrCentral group. Numbers are averages and standard deviations for both the author's own tags and for tags volunteered by others.

               Author tags  Viewer tags   
FlickrCentral  7.5 (9.1)    0.1 (0.4)
Interesting    8.0 (6.4)    0.7 (2.2)

What's it all mean? Not much. The average FlickrCentral photo has 7.5 tags and the average Interesting photo has 8.0 tags. Well within the standard deviations, not a good predictor. Photos in Interestingness do have measurably more viewer contributed tags but that's not a surprise; photos in Interestingness have more viewers.

So not an interesting result, but I love how easy it is to do this kind of data mining with Flickr.

(For the record, I compared the top 100 interesting photos for each day so far in July, 1900 photos, with the 500 most recent photos in FlickrCentral).

  2006-07-20 18:17 Z
The best import videogames are the ones that are relics from bizarro world. Consider the NDS game Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, a rhythm game in an anime style with plotlines lifted from Mentos commercials. Basically, the gameplay is you tapping the screen in time to the J-Pop music so that your men in black facist costumes cheer ordinary people along in their daily struggles.

I just finished the level where you cheer along a horse so he wins the race and catches the bank robber on the motorcycle. Somewhere along the way the bank robber gets on a skateboard and then your horse is swimming away from the sharks. But in the end it's OK because thanks to your rhythm skillz your horse kicks the robber with his hind legs and then holds up his roll of Mentos in victory. Or something like that, a bit may be lost in translation.

The main gameplay is straight-up rhythm, tap the screen with the catchy beats. This video gives you an idea. The game is Japanese only right now but is being remade for the US market as Elite Beat Agents. I bought an import copy anyway to revel in the weird otherness of the full-on Japanese experience.

Thanks to Tea Leaves for hyping the game
  2006-07-17 21:55 Z
I've been so excited about the A Scanner Darkly film that I read the book again and then went to the opening screening today. Here are my impressions.

More inside ...

  2006-07-08 00:09 Z
I'm taking French lessons. Despite the famous Académie française working to maintain the language with intellectual rigor, French has the most screwed up spelling of any language I know other than English. All these extra letters that you just don't pronounce. Or do you?

The basic rule with French is you don't pronounce the last letter. Paris is pronounced pair-ree, no s. Vieux is pronounced vyoo, no x. Vous is voo. Etc. Sometimes you have to skip multiple letters; ils parlent, for instance, is pronounced identically to il parle, roughly eel parl.

But those hidden unpronounced letters are in the mind of every French child, even if they don't usually use them. Particularly because of liason where the lazy French tongue sticks consonants in things. Vous parlez has no s sound but vous avez does (vooz-avey) to avoid having two vowels in a row. The liason rules seem relatively simple and phonological, but they do require you to learn the "extra letters" even if you don't often need them.

Things take a turn for the weird with pronoun agreement. There the "extra letters" sometimes play a role for grammatical reasons, not phonological.

Je le leur ai donné
Je la leur ai donnée
Both mean "I gave it to them"; the difference is whether the "it" is a feminine noun or a masculine noun. There's an e at the end of donné in the feminine sentence so the verb agrees with the pronoun. But you don't pronounce that e, so you can happily ignore it in spoken French.

Except, there are a few verbs where the pronomial ending does change pronounciation.

Je le leur ai offert
Je la leur ai offerte
In the first sentence offert is prounounced oh-fair, without the t. Second sentence? oh-fairt. So not only do you have to remember that the participle is spelled with a generally-silent t, you have to remember that the feminine pronoun requires an e on the end of the participle, thereby making the t pronounced.

It seems very odd that the grammar is dictating pronounciation, not just phonology. My teacher tells me French native speakers get this rule wrong all the time; I'm sure I will too. But it sure is fascinating.

  2006-07-07 18:05 Z