The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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5:36pm on Sunday, 1st February, 2015:



I went to London today (despite the best efforts of the rail operators, who chose today as the starting date for their close-the-line-t0-London-every-Sunday-for-two-months maintenance) to meet my friend Eric Goldberg. As he has two young daughters, he was under instructions to go to Hamleys and buy them some Stuff. As I like Hamley's and haven't been there for ages, I went along with him.

This lego rendition of the Royal Wedding was on display (it looks better in real life than in the photo):

I would so go to a Lego version of Madame Tussaud's! They can't look less realistic than the waxworks they have at the moment, and they'll make a nice stopgap until 3D printing takes over and we can all make our own.


7:23pm on Saturday, 31st January, 2015:



My younger daughter sent me this photo of a sign she saw at the University of East Anglia:

Wow, they're tough on people in wheelchairs at UEA.


2:11pm on Friday, 30th January, 2015:



I was looking at a BBC story about how someone has hacked a child's doll that you operate over bluetooth.

Never mind that! Look how far you can turn up the volume on the BBC web site.

Oh yes.


2:05pm on Friday, 30th January, 2015:

Red Button


I was walking back to my car in Colchester at lunchtime and passed one of those machine that contain a pile of toys and a grabber. You move the grabber around with controls and press a big, red button to make it descend. Your hope is that you'll get a toy. Your expectation is that it would take a miracle.

At this machine saw a mother with her 3-year-old-or-so son. She was moving the crane around trying to win a teddy. However, when you're 3 a big, red button is a BIG, RED BUTTON: he gleefully slammed his hand down on it, much to his mother's despair. "No, no, what have you done? I don't have any more coins, I — oh."

Well yes, of course the grabber descended and picked up a teddy which it dutifully deposited in the retrieval bin.

When you see things like that and think, "what was the chance that would happen?", the answer is always 100%.


7:37am on Thursday, 29th January, 2015:

The World in 1985


The Everyday Encyclopoedia from 1960 ends with a section called "You and the Future". Here's its prediction for how transport will be in 25 years' time. Compare it with the real 1985 and you'll see just how accurate these futurologists can be:

Well, perhaps "naïvely optimistic" rather than "accurate"...


4:02pm on Wednesday, 28th January, 2015:



It was visit day today, and this sign was prominently displayed to our prospective students:

It doesn't look good advice to me. Once people learn your connections are forged, they're never going to trust you again.


4:04pm on Tuesday, 27th January, 2015:

Is Our CLimate Changing?


When scientists discovered that smoking caused cancer, they didn't look at smoking and try to figure out what it caused. What happened was that they noticed that the incidence of cancer — particularly lung cancer — had risen sharply from what it had been in the past, so they looked for a cause. They figured that it was something to do with modern living, so checked out several possibilities (such as people whose jobs meant they breathed in more petroleum gasoline fumes than everyone else got lung cancer more; they didn't). They discovered that people who smoked had a much bigger chance of getting lung cancer, and calculated that it accounted for practically all the rise in incidence of the illness.

If the scientists had worked the other way, they would have had an agenda: find what bad things smoking causes then warn people. That's not how science works, though (well, not unless you're a psychologist looking to get money to prove the ill effects of computer games).

Here's an article from a 1962 encyclopoedia I have, which is about climate change (I've mentioned it briefly before). Scientists form over 50 years ago had noticed that the world is getting warmed, but don't know why.

Climate change deniers might say we still don't know why. It's hard for them to argue that it's not happening at all, though, when its effects were noticed by people who didn't have an agenda, just data.


4:28pm on Monday, 26th January, 2015:



At lunch today, I overheard two American students talking about chips.

They had decided that chips were indeed a different thing to fries, and so referred to them as chips the whole time. They liked the concept of them, but found them too soggy. They didn't like the way they seemed to come with food that you wouldn't expect them to come with, such as high cuisine at fancy restaurants. They didn't like how bland they were, and that you had to dip them in sauce to make them edible.

At this point, I was poised to intervene. Clearly, these students didn't understand what a chip is! It's not a fried piece of potato: it's a fried piece of potato with salt and vinegar on it. If you don't add the salt and vinegar, what you have is about as tasty as straw. If you do, it transforms into the wondrous consumable that is a chip.

I didn't intervene, however, because at that moment I was emptying a sachet of vinegar onto my own chips and hadn't torn a hole big enough. It sprayed out all over me. I spent the next four hours (which included a two-hour lecture) smelling of vinegar, and only now I'm home can I change my clothes into something less acetic.


3:59pm on Sunday, 25th January, 2015:

Cat, Cab, Crow


I popped into the university again today to see how well the game jam entries were progressing. Needless to say, I was impressed. It's amazing what a team of four can do in 48 hours (or less than 48 if they squander a few hours on sleep). We have three teams this year, as it's the first time we've entered. They went for very different games.

One game doesnt look great visually and is in definite need of reskinning. It features the university's campus cat (a wild cat that roams the campus) trying to find fish. It's basically a 2D platformer. Nothing special, you might think, except that once you complete a level the next level is the same as the one you just completed but with one of the components you used to complete it disabled. So, a platform might disappear, or a wall might appear, or a moving platform might stop moving. There's always a solution (maybe you didn't notice that the screen was wrap-around?) but it gets progressively harder. If anyone wants to play a recalcitrant platformer, this should appeal.

Another game has a very nice stylised look to it. The premise is that you've fallen out of an aircraft and are trying to stay in the air as long as possible before you hit the ground. It's a vertical-scroller rather than a side-scroller. As it happens, you never do hit the ground as flocks of crows will get you first, but you have fun trying. There's a nice little mechanic involving a friendly bird following you down that you can try to get to hit crows and frighten them off (for bonus points). This game would work very well on a smartphone or tablet; I hope the team takes it further.

The final game looked gorgeous, a testament to the aesthetic skills of whoever trawled the Unity store for compatible free assets. It's a taxi game: customers want to be picked up and taken to places. The view is bird's-eye, top-down, and although it's played in 2D the graphics are all 3D, which is why it looks so good. There are pedestrians who call the cab and who may occasionally wander out ino the road at a moment's notice. There are also other cars, which follow the rules of the road. Pedestrians and other cars are under pretty smart AI control. Now although what I've described of it so far oozes quality, it doesn't perhaps sound like much of a game. That's because I haven't mentioned the key mechanic: it's a four-player game, each player controlling one wheel of the taxi. If you want to turn right, then the players controlling the wheels on the right will have to put their own wheel either into neutral or reverse. Or maybe it's a gentle turn so they just need one of them to do it. Or maybe they need to turn on a sixpence so the front left goes forward, the back right goes in reverse and the other two wheels are in neutral. This is the kind of game that would work best on a console with four controllers, or in a bar or amusement arcade.

Overall, it looks to have been well worth the effort; I certainly liked what I saw. As IGGI is a 3-university centre, next year the event will take place at either York or Goldsmiths. However, I'm hoping we'll be able to use the experience to persuade our undergraduates and (if our games MSc starts in time) postgraduates to take part.

I'd have entered myself but it's double black bullion reward weekend in The Secret World...


3:21pm on Saturday, 24th January, 2015:

Doing What?


I went to the university today to see how the IGGI doctoral students are doing in the Global Game Jam. The topic this year is the easy-to-reskin-something-you-did-earlier "What do we do now?". The students organised themselves in three groups of four, with the games they are designing best summarised as "What do WE do now?", "What do we DO now?" and "What do we do NOW?".

I had planned to arrive just after the students had finished lunch at about 1:30, but actually arrived when they were just starting lunch at about 1:30... Oh well, having two lunches on the same day never hurt me before.

When I read final-year student project reports, nine times out of ten the student will say that they chose to implement their program in whatever language they used because it's the language they're most familiar with. For these IGGI students, all of them could program in C++ and none of them had experience in using Unity. They therefore decided to implement their games in the game jam using Unity.

That's one of the differences between most PhD students and most BSc students right there.


3:39pm on Friday, 23rd January, 2015:



We've entered the students from our IGGI doctoral training centre (still time to apply for next year!) into this year's Global Game Jam. If it all goes well, we'll hire some military weapons to persuade our undergraduates to participate next year. This time, in an effort to ensure that our students aren't going to starve until the pizza arrives in the evening, we ordered sandwiches. Not just any sandwiches, though: the university's top-of-the-range sandwiches. These are the ones normally reserved for real people, rather than for students (who, being students, will eat anything so long as it doesn't look healthy).

Unfortunately, I have to report that despite what the label suggests, there wasn't much meat in these:


6:08pm on Thursday, 22nd January, 2015:

Important Laws


Every year, I get my Virtual World module students to look at The Laws of Online World Design. I split them (the students) into groups and have each group choose the "most important" five rules. Afterwards, I discuss their choices with them, referring back to when I've done this previous years (2012/13 and 2013/14). I usually have groups of 4 of 5 people, but this time I had groups of 3 because we were in a new room that no-one (including me) (in fact probably including everyone else at the university) had ever been to before. People were turning up late not because they were lazy, but because they needed a SatNav to find the place.

Anyway, I wound up with 4 groups this way. There were no rules that all agreed on, but the ones that more than one group had in their top 5 are:

The first and the last of these got support from 3 groups, the others just from 2.

Never trust the client is a perennial favourite, but others that have proven popular in previous years either got only one vote (Rickey's Law) or no votes at all (Koster's Law, Is it a game?, Community Size, Dundee's Law).

There are no right or wrong answers (hmm, actually there are some I'd say are wrong ones); the main point of the exercise is to get the students to absorb the Laws through reading and discussing them, and to help move them towards getting their own thinking straight about what is or isn't important TO THEM in the design of a virtual world. That said, there are definite trends over the years, particularly with the demise of the importance of role-playing as a concept in today's virtual worlds.

The students were quite surprised afterwards to discover that they had actually spoken in front of their peers. Their default setting is to say nothing. Subterranean rooms hewn from ancient 1960s concrete must promote the breakdown of social norms...


3:56pm on Wednesday, 21st January, 2015:

Nightmare in the Dream Palace


Here's a screenshot from The Secret World:

So, my character was repeating a single-player instanced mission called Nightmare in the Dream Palace and fell through the architecture. The large tunnels in the sky you can see there are different sections of the mission. What's supposed to happen is that you get to the end of one then it teleports you to the start of the other. There are more than just the ones you see here, and although I do have pics of the overall set-up (with rooms floating in thin air, that kind of thing) I had to pull back so far that you can't really see the details.

As a result of this bug, I managed to skip four or five tedious sections of the mission. Ordinarily I'd be pleased, but as I'd only done the mission specifically to try something out in one of those tedious sections, I was a bit miffed.

Oh, and by the way, Funcom, if you don't fix that minor exploit I told you about soon, someone else is going to find it who isn't able to keep a secret...


2:48pm on Tuesday, 20th January, 2015:

Rather Different


Every year, I give my second-year students six old-time games to play, in order that I can ask examination questions about them. The games are Pong, Frogger, Zork, Rogue, Asteroids and Tetris. This year, the web-based version of Rogue I gave them stopped working between when I tested the URL and when they tried it, so they only had 5 games to play. Fortunately, Rogue isn't featured in the exam questions this time round (I've just checked).

Also every year, I ask the students what games they liked the most. Each cohort of students has a different take on the games, but in 2011, 2012 and 2013 they've always had the same three games in the top 3 and the same 3 games in the bottom 3. Here's a list of the games and what position they came in the popularity charts for these three years:

Tetris 2 1 2
Frogger 3 2 1
Asteroids1 3 3
Rogue 4 5 4
Pong 5 4 5
Zork 6 6 6

This year the order of popularity (excluding Rogue as they couldn't play it) was:


Tetris was 1 vote ahead of Zork, both of which were some way ahead of Asteroids. So whereas the previous cohorts of second-year students have loathed Zork, this year's really liked it.

Also, in the game design exerise I gave them, three of the five games they came up with using the random materials I gave them were good enough to play for fun. Two of them need further polish, but the other is playable as it stands.

I have high hopes for these students! I just wish my lectures for them were a little less boring than they are at the moment...


5:34pm on Monday, 19th January, 2015:

All Gone


This morning, I finished the last of the 1kg of Cadbury's Dairy Milk that my younger daughter got me for my birthday. I'm quite pleased that I managed to make it last 9 days, although to be honest Iwould probably have polished it off earlier if I hadn't had half a share in a box of After Eight and in another of Milk Tray.

It will probably take me longer to finish the 1kg of Darjeeling tea that my elder daughter got me, though.


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Copyright © 2015 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).