Them: "This is terrible. This is way too complicated"
Roz: "Is it wrong?"
The book Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate is for, by, and about technical writers. It's about keeping documentation in a wiki. I didn't learn so much from that part; I've been keeping docs in wikis for several years now. But it was specifically about Confluence wiki, and I'd heard that it had a section on how Confluence's search computes relevance ranking. We use Confluence at work, so there were some things I wanted to know about; how to do "intranet SEO" was a big one. From that I learned… Confluence's search doesn't work the way I want it to. Findability isn't a big problem for us now; but it probably will be sometime in the next couple of years. And we might not have great tools to fix it then.
This is terrible.
By which I mean, "Thank you for the early warning."
Soon-ish, Octothorpean will reward you for sending in photos of yourself at puzzle sites with a shiny merit badge. Rather than let all those photos gather electro-dust in a gmail folder, it would be good to do something with them. But what? I'd like to know your opinion. (Yeah, of course, if someone checks the box saying "Please don't post this photo publicly, I'm shy" that photo ain't goin' anywhere. But shy people might still have opinions about where not-so-shy folks' photos go anyhow: maybe they'd find it annoying if _____ pages were cluttered with photos, but charming if ______ had them.)
Where should photos go?
- On puzzle pages. E.g., the San Francisco Music Mural puzzle could have photos of folks at the San Francisco music mural spot.
- On city-puzzle pages. So photos of folks at that music mural and all the other San Francisco Bay Area puzzle spots would be on one page.
- On city-badge pages. So San Francisco photos would be on the San Francisco merit badge page.
- On a separate gallery page, out of the way of puzzles and badges and such.
- Not on the site at all, but tweeted on the @octothorpean Twitter dealie.
Have an opinion? I'd love to hear it.
The other day, I met friends downtown. I was first to arrive, and so I hauled out my phone in search of amusement. I started up Ingress, that game in which your place on the "game board" is based on your phone's GPS position. And wow was my phone ever confused about where I was—as I shimmied around a small area, my phone thought I was where I was, around the corner, two blocks north, a few blocks south, and many places I didn't even get a chance to recognize before my GPS position "moved" again.
My phone had the position right a fair fraction of the time, but it was often far off.
So…suppose you're setting up a puzzle in ClueKeeper. You have a choice: you can require that a team's phone thinks its close to the puzzle site or not-require that. If a team can be standing right next to the puzzle site, they'll get frustrated if their phone's GPS thinks they're swimming in a bay 3km away and that prevents them from seeing the puzzle. Setting up the puzzle, I want to visit the site, haul out a phone and check the site, try to figure out if GPS signal is "glitchy" there. If it is, then I shouldn't require GPS checking for that puzzle.
How do I know? My phone thought I was where-I-really-was a plurality of the time at that one site. That suggests that I can haul out my phone someplace, see where it thinks I am, and think that a site is GPS-friendly when really it's not. So how should I check? Shuffle in a 100m orbit around the site while checking my phone? Hold the phone at funny angles? Bring multiple phones and check 'em all? Make sure I check on a rainy day because maybe water droplets change everything?
This seems like a question whose answer is probably out there on teh internets if only I knew what to search for and how to distinguish ignorant bullroar from informed heuristics.
I'd seen the GC interface a couple of years ago, tinkered with it. More recently, I'd used ClueKeeper as a player for a test run, Shinteki Decathlon 8, and playtesting the 2013 Elevate Tutoring puzzlehunt. I knew it had changed: there was an iPhone client. Perhaps more importantly, I had changed: I'd finally upgraded to a new-enough phone to run ClueKeeper's Android client.
So I slapped together a little test “hunt”: answer words tended to be “test”; locations were spots on the sidewalk in front of my apartment. So far, I'd played with the hunt-writing interface and I'd played in hunts, but this was my first time seeing how that hunt would appear to players.
What did I learn? I learned that the hunt-composing UI is well thought-out. To set up a puzzle, you go through a few screens of UI; those screens are ordered as the players will encounter stages of the puzzle. There's a screen to configure what the players will do on their way to the puzzle (optional message, location, “start code”), at the puzzle (hints, answers, “partials”), and after solving (congratulatory messages, nudges where to go next). Within each screen, the UI elements again correspond to the order in which teams encounter things. In a puzzle's “preamble”, you can optionally specify that a team's GPS confirm they're at the right spot; you can optionally set a “start code” for them to give before the puzzle proper starts. The hunt-composing UI presents the elements in that order: GPS, start code. Thus, you can infer from that if both those options are on, then teams will have to first go to the location, then enter a start code. Obvious once you see it. I needed to see it, though.
I said “option” there a lot. As a hunt creator, you have plenty of those. To me, it didn't seem like an overwhelming amount of choice; it might help that I've played in Shintekis and DASHes and so I can look at a terse option description and say “Oh yeah, a Shinteki-style start code” or “I bet this comes in handy if you're using the Universal Longshots Scoring System.” Other folks… can probably figure it out. You can also set hunt-wide defaults for these settings.
ClueKeeper does not yet do everything I could imagine in my wildest fantasies. By the time you read this, though, it might. Whenever I asked Rich, “Hey, is there some way I could make it do _______?” and the answer was “not yet,” that answer continued with a well-thought out plan of how that feature could be added. That's the awesome thing; this program is being created by folks who are awesome Game Control folks in their own right; and they furthermore know professional and amateur gamerunners who are lavish with design advice and feature requests. They've set up a framework that's well-suited to its task. As folks say “Hey, we're running a game in a few months, can we use ClueKeeper to do X?” the answer's likely to be “Thanks to the advanced warning, yeah you will be able to do X.”
At the recent GC Summit, Rich said that in addition to live events, they also want some persistent in-the-world hunts available. So if there's some data-lush area of your hometown that could be viewed as a flurry of puzzles, you might want to learn about the platform and talk to the ClueKeeper folks about setting something up. (Of course, if your puzzly city site has a big old octothorpe in it, I think you should turn it into an Octothorpean puzzle instead; but it turns out not all such sites have octothorpes.) Check it out; it's pretty cool.
To try a game prototype where the "map" depends on where you physically play, go to Amnesia Fortnight, pony up a few bucks, vote for "Buried Metropolis," and hope for good luck.
That's the skinny. Here's the long meandering story.
I've been attending Adventure Design Group lectures. Mostly, they've about pervasive-game/ARG/art stuff, but some of the upcoming talks sound like they'll wander a bit further afield. E.g., the next lecture (coming up on π day) is going to about a software platform to ease running ARGs. Since I'm not planning to run an ARG any time soon, but an upcoming-talk announcement last time caught my ear: Brandon Dillon and JP LeBreton of local computer game house Double Fine will give a talk in a few months. (I might have seen JP LeBreton in the audience during the talk in which those upcoming talks were announced. Maybe. Hey, it was dark, and I might not recognize a game designer by silhouette.) It seemed like an odd fit. Why those guys? It seemed like an odd fit. If you want some Double Fine nerd to give an Adventure Design Group talk, why not Paul Du Bois? He's at least played in a Park Challenge. I wasn't so sure about the beyond-the-screen qualifications of the folks actually signed up to give the talk.
I guessed that they might talk about Hack 'n' Slash, a computer game that fuzzed the "boundaries" of the game by encouraging cheating. I'd played a proof-of-concept prototype; you could play it as a straight-up game, but the game had come with human-readable source code for parts of the program, and it was easier to figure out what to do if you looked around and tinkered in that source code. So it could be a game that busts out of the "magic circle" of gaming… for that subset of the population that's comfortable looking at computer code. That's kinda in the Adventure Design Group mindspace, though I worry that only ~a third of the usual folks would see it that way.
When Double Fine figures out what games to make next, they go through a multi-week ritual they call Amnesia Fortnight. Employees craft pitches. A few pitches are chosen. There's a fortnight-long hackathon in which those few pitches turn into prototypes. If some of those prototypes feel fun, maybe they turn into games.
Double Fine has turned to crowdsourcing to figure out which game-ideas are worth turning into games. They didn't useta. But then a couple of years ago, they were thinking of making a game in the theoretically-moribund point-and-click adventure genre. It's the sort of game that nostalgic folks would say they missed. But it was hard to figure out if those folks-talking-at-that-party-you-went-to added up to a sizable audience of folks who'd actually want this game. They tried a Kickstarter campaign to simultaneously gauge interest and fund the project—and raised a few million dollars, wow. So now they seem to like using the crowd to figure out, y'know, what fraction of the global crowd might be interested in a game. (If that early experiment had had a negative result, would the Double Fine folks like the technique so much? Hmm. Anyhow.)
Starting with last year's Amnesia Fortnight, Double Fine has crowd-sourced the choosing of which game-pitches should move forward to become game-prototypes. This seems like a deft way to figure out which ideas capture public interest (which might hint at number of future customers). I bet it also side-steps the office politics that probably muddy such deciding. Last year, anyone could kick in a few bucks to participate in Amnesia Fortnight: you could vote on game pitches and get copies of the prototypes to play afterwards. That's how I came to play a prototype of that Hack 'n' Slash game: from last year's Amnesia Fortnight. I voted for some game ideas, including Hack 'n' Slash. After the hackathon, I had a prototype to play with, yay. (Well, I had a few to play with, but most of the winning ideas didn't interest me so much, so I didn't play them.)
Double Fine is crowd-sourcing Amnesia Fortnight again this year. There are game pitches up. You can kick in a few bucks, vote on ideas, and get some rough-but-fun prototypes to play with later. I'm doing it again this year. There are some neat ideas in there that seem like they could turn into fun games. Though you might not agree with me about which ones are the fun ones. (I like the idea of a game around virtual dim sum. But maybe that's just because most real dim sum's been no good for me since I've been a vegetarian. Who really thinks that turnip cakes need pork bits? No, really, wouldn't those bits be better off in some kind of, y'know, pork bun? Oh man I miss turnip cakes. Sorry, what were we talking about?) But BUT. If you read this blog because you're into the pervasive games-out-in-the-world thing, you might be particularly interested in one of this Fortnight's game ideas.
Buried Metropolis is a game—well so far it's a game pitch—in which the game "map" depends on nearby wifi hotspot addresses. If I tell the game about my neighborhood's local wifi hotspot "password is neoprene" and you're in the neighborhood, tell the game about that same hotspot, we should both end up playing on the same map. Someone in Chicago looking at some other wifi hotspot will see a different map.
There are many games out there where your character wanders around a landscape-ish map, occasionally bumbling into entrances to "dungeons," areas in which to go adventuring. Buried Metropolis seems like it could change this: maybe now the players will explore the landscape of the real world, looking for wifi hotspots whose addresses turn out to generate especially-handy maps.
It seems like there could be some ways to have the real world and the game world interact, depending on what a device "knows" about the local wifi hotspots. E.g., if my phone "sees" a wifi hotspot in the neighborhood, maybe that means I can explore the map associated with that hotspot. But what if I actually use that hotspot to connect to the internet? That implies I have some kind of control over the hotspot, right? I know its access password, probably. Maybe that implies my character should have boosted abilities while in that map. So in my neighborhood, maybe I could explore the map associated with the hotspot "password is neoprene" with a big boost; and similarly with the unlocked "ShyPanda-guest" but maybe not "ShyPanda", for which I don't have the password.
Yes, yes, wifi security is notoriously bad; you can use programs to crack it in no time. OK, maybe encouraging players to hack wifi security is a bad idea. Still. There's a nugget of an idea there.
What if the game challenged you to change the human-readable name of a hotspot to demonstrate your control? Like, you could play through the game; you encounter a character who tells you this map's magic word is "ossifrage". If, in the real world, you can change the human-readable name of that hotspot from "password is neoprene" to "password is neoprene not ossifrage" then the game gives your character a boost. Since "password is neoprene" is my box, I can change its name. But I can't change the name of "ShyPanda-guest"—it's unlocked so I can use it, but I don't have permission to change its name.
Does this idea pique your interest? It piqued mine enough to ramble like this. If you're interested, go to Amnesia Fortnight, buy some votes, vote for some games. If Buried Metropolis is a winner, maybe it'll turn into a prototype. If it turns into a prototype, maybe those Double Fine nerds can talk about it at the Adventure Design Group in a few months.
Back in the day radio stations used to have listening lines, telephone numbers you could call to hear what was being broadcast by the radio station. They were used mostly by advertising agencies to check that radio stations were broadcasting the ads that their clients had purchased.That was neat: that problem is still around these days, though you're more likely to confirm your ad's playing over the internet than over the phone.
Joybubbles (then known as Joe Engressia) had a presidential speech for a phone phreak club that tech writers or other educational folks can take as a motto: "knowledge shared is knowledge expanded."
You learn a bit about the frustration of telephone company security folks: the uncomfortable switch between cracking down on hardened criminals and investigating folks who are breaking into your systems out of curiosity. Nowadays, most telephone companies and ISPs seem over-eager to cooperate with government spying; you get to see the history of that. There weren't any laws preventing folks from getting past phone system security and thus avoid being billed for calls. While investigating such, the phone company would listen in on calls and figure out that there were listening to, say, a bookie. So they could get the bookie to stop making calls by siccing the police on them, but had to hide the fact that they were eavesdropping on calls.