The other night, after 5 years of putting it off, I finally completed Mass Effect. I see now why it’s so well-regarded.

Briefly, here’s what I think was awesome:

  • Elegant and succinct core plot. Mass Effect’s core plot was actually rather short; about 8 hours of play by my count. This kept it sharp and elegant. It employed some classic tropes, making it accessible, but did so with nuance and context so they seemed new and vibrant. It captured grand scope while remaining anchored in the motivations of individual characters. I’ll refrain from any more detail in case there’s anyone else left who’s not played it.
  • Sharply defined and well-rounded characters. Each of your team member’s motivations and background were unique, and the game wasted no opportunity to expand on these through background dialog, interjections, and excellent character driven side quests. Most other NPCs, too, were detailed in a believable way that made it easy to empathize with them and thus care about the eventual fate of them and their world. This also made side quests feel far less arbitrary and repetitive, despite the limited range of quest activities (kill this, talk to this guy, get this thing) and the frequent re-use of interior maps.
  • Excellent integration of PC customization. So many games let you customize your character’s appearance, background, and other attributes, then limit the impact of those choices to purely mechanical or cosmetic effects. There’s nothing wrong with either; character optimization is, after all, a valid element of play and a lot of fun. Furthermore, mechanical changes implemented well can afford different styles of play that lend a lot of depth – Deus Ex is one of the better examples of this. Mass Effect, however, does the best job I’ve seen in a CRPG of adapting the world and the plot according to those customizations by changing NPC interactions, providing different side quests, and, moreover, by reminding you of your choices at relevant points throughout the game instead of letting them fade away into irrelevancy.
  • Strong setting and backstory.The setting, as developed in in-game dialog and the game’s codex of background information, was coherent, internally consistent, detailed, and mostly plausible given current scientific understanding. Even the three notable exceptions of mass effect (necessary for FTL travel and comms, artificial gravity, and other space operatic tropes), biotic abilities (basically magic), and tech abilities (basically technology that’s indistinguishable from magic) were well fleshed out and justified. Two design details I really liked:
    1. Frequent opportunities to learn more about the world by interacting with computers and other objects, thus drawing you into the setting by reinforcing the feeling that you’re not just playing a game, you’re exploring a world.
    2. The detail, plausibility and novelty of many of the planet descriptions, and the look and feel of the planets you could land on really helped to establish a sense of place for the galaxy as a whole. Driving around lava plain looking for mercenaries is cool, but driving around an alien world with highly active geology caused by tidal effects from a nearby gas giant is way cooler. Maybe I’m just a nerd.
  • High production values. This one’s straight forward – if you design your world with care, but present it poorly, few players will ever take the time to appreciate it. If, however, you employ attractive and above-all consistent aesthetics throughout, in audio, graphics, and UI, it becomes much easier to appreciate the experience as a seamless whole and thus become immersed in it. Mass Effect does this well.

Shepard as I saw her

Nothing is ever perfect, though. I have the following critiques:

  • Failure to capture or emulate scale.  Space… is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is.It’s hard to believe, then, that all of galactic society is governed by a council of three. Or that the capital of the galaxy has exactly one trader, one med clinic, one banker, one dance club, and one seedy bar of note. Or that ambassadors would be satisfied with one room embassies. Or that there’s only 60 star systems in the galaxy. Or that all of the interesting features of a planet can be found in square patches 5 km each side. This is a classic problem for game designers – reality is big and complex, but your game has a limited budget, so you have to take shortcuts. There are strategies, however:
    • Allude to greater things. Players don’t need to see or interact with all of the parts of some system, but the presence of those parts should be acknowledged. Instead of forming a council of three, Mass Effect’s council members could have been presented as their spokes-aliens. Depict mass deliberations in the background of a scene, and have them occasionally consult off screen colleagues, and you’ve got something more believable. Add a sub quest that deals with alternate factions within the council, and the rest of the council feels real. Don’t dwell on it, but allude to its complexity. Mass Effect’s elevator newscasts are an excellent example of just this – you get the feeling that there’s a real news-hungry populace out there, eager to know what’s happening. But you never see them.
    • Don’t be limited by travel distance. Sure, travel helps players establish a graphical sense of place, and driving and navigation tasks make for fun game-play when done right. But in most games, travel is a means, not an end. Instead of trying to fit all meaningful resources into a single traversible environment, planets could have been represented as a globe or world map with places of interest marked. Planetary scale would seem more realistic and planets could be re-visited without repeating travel segments, and driving could be reserved for when it serves a dramatic or atmospheric purpose; approaching key installations, for example, as in the core plot. Weirdly, they got this right for planetary systems, but not for planets themselves. The same approach would have worked well for the citadel, too, and even reflects human behavior – most of us have a small number of favored stores & restaurants, ignoring the rest except for special occasions.  The same might apply to traders, med clinics, and other services.
    • Procedural generation. The most direct way to create a feeling of vastness is to actually provide it. Elite 2, for example, included a mind-bogglingly vast array of stars (100,000+) to visit in a game only 400 kB in size. Sure, 99.999% of these worlds were irrelevant, but they were there, and you could visit them, if you wanted. This made the universe seem real and huge, dispelling the feeling of game world as sandbox that so often becomes evident when you look back from the end and see that you’ve explored everything, done everything. Obviously, procedural generation needs to be supplemented with actual design, but this could be limited to customizing 50 or so important star systems. The key challenge here is keeping the UI uncluttered and keeping the player from getting distracted.
  • Uninterruptible animations. Games are interactive experiences, and interactivity is dependent on a sense of control. Unskippable cut-scenes and animations may be warranted in certain rare situations, but surely elevator animations are not. The only value I got out of elevators was from the newscasts in the Citadel, and even these only occupied 50% of the animation time. I really don’t understand why designers persist with this particular class of mistake.
  • Quest interiors. Mass Effect’s many secondary assignments involve visiting facilities on a variety of star systems throughout the galaxy. Disappointingly, only four fairly basic designs were used to represent these: the cargo ship, the above ground building, the below ground building, and the mine / cave. Slight variation was created by rearranging furniture and cargo, but the simplicity of these interiors really undermined the otherwise excellent senses of place created throughout the game. This was particular jarring in comparison to the detailed and diverse environments used for primary missions. Templates are a great tool for building large numbers of environments, but rather than whole area templates, they probably should have used room templates (a la Oblivion), as it’s much easier to explain regularities at that level (standard habitat construction components, for example).
  • Collection Quests. I understand why designers include collection quests, but I still don’t understand why they do them so badly. Their strength is that they appeal to our intrinsic motivation to complete easily measured tasks, and in doing so cause players to explore the world much more thoroughly. Their weakness, however, is that they can flatten the delight of exploration into an exhaustive grind. Instead of telling players ‘you must walk all over every planet to complete this quest’, games should tell players ‘keep your eyes open for hints about where to find these things’, then give them reason to trust that they’ll have ample clues to find them all, with perhaps some gradient of difficulty for the players who like searching for all of the eggs. It’s far more interesting to chase down rumours about the location of hidden artifacts than it is to drive back and forth looking for blips on your radar.
  • Inventory management. As previously mentioned, character optimization is a core aspect of RPGs, and that includes inventory optimization. On this front, however, Mass Effect fails:
    • Aside from a few special upgrades, all items in Mass Effect are labeled Name – Model, with name affecting the look of the item, and model the power. So, a suit of Onyx-I armor from the beginning of the game looks identical to a suit of Onyx-IX, but is much weaker. Upgrades, then, are a colorless matter of incrementally improving certain attributes, to the point that I found it more interesting to find a different but worse suit of armor than an purely better one. Furthermore, several makes and models were strictly better than others, meaning that whole sections of the inventory tree could be safely ignored. As a result, inventory optimization shifted from an exploration of cool things I could trick out my character with to a dry task of making sure all of the numbers were optimal. Borderlands provides a far better example of inventory optimization in an action RPG; another relevant consideration is the idea of ‘incomparables’, as explained in this episode of Extra Credits.
    • Inventory management is an element of gameplay best thought of as a task. You have specific goals in mind, specific choices to make, and can ignore much of the rest of the game while doing them. Like most tasks, then, the UI for managing inventory should be focused on helping you complete that task by providing relevant information when it’s needed and limiting the time delay and effort associated with each action. Mass Effect’s base inventory UI isn’t bad, but it’s not great – it only lists 5 items at once, for example. Where they really drop the ball, however, is in shopping for the rest of your team. You’re only able to modify team inventory when that team member’s with you, or when you’re on the ship (when that team member is not with you). Problem is, when you’re talking to a merchant, you can only compare their wares against the equipment of team members who are with you. So, you’re either reduced to taking your team to the merchant in small groups or writing down the key stats of their gear and managing it by going to their lockers in the ship. Managing this sort of information by hand is not fun and is precisely the sort of thing a good UI is meant to obviate.

All up, though, Mass Effect was excellent, and good motivation for me to move on to the next one.


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Since arriving at UW almost four years ago, I’ve been involved in student politics. I’ve not talked about it here as most of it is rather prosaic and, for those not at UW, largely irrelevant. Every now and then, though, something comes up which might be of wider interest..

In early May, GPSS, the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, ran its second Science and Policy Summit, an event for academics, policy-makers, and the general public that looks at the interactions between scientific research and policy development. This year, we ran two panels, one on the impact of bioinformatics on preventive medicine, and the other on the role of science in public political discussion, focusing on the US Presidential debates. As well as the panels, we also ran a series of short talks, inspired by the TED model.

There were about 10 talks, 10 minutes each, delivered by a mix of graduate students, post-docs, and faculty, and of a very high quality. Here’s a few topics to whet your interest:

  • Couch safety, various failed attempts at regulation, and the fate of your cat
  • The ups and downs of developing tourism as a means of restoring communities and ecosystems in SE Asia
  • A passionate argument for the necessity of cosmology research
  • The woeful state of healthcare in the US (not health funding, but healthcare itself), including some rather damning statistics and factoids, presented as humorously as possible

We recorded all of the talks, and they’ve now been posted to YouTube. They’re all rather interesting, and worth at least a look, even if the film quality isn’t all I’d hoped when I filmed them.


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Spacey fun at the symphony last night, with Legeti’s Atmosphères and Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, both used in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Holst’s Planets.

Atmospheres was subtle, relaxing, and almost entirely without melody – a piece for meditating to, if stark and slightly scary. I really needed that, as Thursday was just one of those days – at one point, I’d even been the target of a precision bombing run by a passing bird. Two things about this piece. Firstly, most recordings don’t do it justice, because it’s all about orchestral color, and that often just doesn’t come through. Secondly, it’s very quiet in places, which offers a great opportunity to really appreciate the inability of some people to simply sit still and be silent.

The opening of “Also Sprach ..”, unsurprisingly, did its best to shake my innards to jelly with awesome – the sheer weight of the music is that much more spectacular when you’re up close with full orchestra and pipe organ. Like most, I wasn’t too familiar with the rest of the piece, but I’m now inspired to fix that.

Sadly, no Blue Danube.

The Planets, being one of my favorite pieces, were up for more criticism than the rest. They played it alongside a sequence of photos and reconstructions from various space probes, many of which were awesome. Unfortunately, while most of the performance was serviceable, there were a number of missed notes in the lead brass portions in several movements. I also think the conductor stuck too rigidly to the meter in places, and as a result, certain sections came off a little mechanical and slightly too fast. That said, my reference performance was conducted by Karajan, and he’s famous for interpreting the meter and tone of a piece in his own way.


Posted in Art & Photos, Music | No Comments »

Saw a cool presentation today about an implant-based therapy for epilepsy at the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering by Jaideep Mavoori of NeuroVista, a company here in Seattle.

The idea is that if someone is warned of an imminent seizure in advance, say 20 minutes out, they can remove themselves from unsafe or embarrassing situations, take other precautions (lying down, perhaps), or take fast acting drugs that might stop it from happening. This is a big deal, as it helps the 30% or so of those suffering from the disease for whom conventional drug treatment doesn’t work. It may also allow some of those receiving drugs to come off them, reduce their dose, or shift to less effective drugs with fewer side effects. It might also help reduce the number of deaths from epilepsy-related accidents – 50,000 annually in the US, apparently.

The technology’s actually fairly simple. There’s three main parts, none of which appears to be particularly magical.

  • an array of electrodes implanted on the surface of the brain, beneath the skull, but outside the dura mater, and thus not in contact with or penetrating the brain itself
  • a set of signal processing and machine learning algorithms that classify brain patterns into risk levels based on training data previously collected from that individual and from the public in general
  • A mobile device or phone app that warns the patient of periods of increased risk

It’s in trials at the moment in Australia, and is apparently performing well, with no known associated adverse events.

Apparently, this all started out with Jaideep’s PhD research into the sensorimotor function of moths – he basically designed chips and implants small enough to put in a moth, then studied the different nerve signals associated with its wings as it flew. They also did trials of the epilepsy detection technology on dogs, as they also suffer from epilepsy. Unfortunately, I was unable to find copies of the cute pictures he showed in the talk.

If you’re interested in hearing more, there’s a 5 minute video article from ABC News in Australia talking about it. It’s formatted a bit weird, so you might need to download it and switch to the second audio track in VLC.

Edit: Apparently the electrodes are implanted beneath the dura mater, but outside the arachnoid mater. So, between the second and third membranes that encase the brain.


Posted in Medicine & the Human Body, Science & Technology | No Comments »

I was completely unaware of this, but apparently cases of academic misconduct, as evidenced by the retraction of papers from journals and other publication venues, have been on the rise.

According to the article, retractions from journals in the PubMed database have increased by a factor of 60 over ten years, from 3 in 2000 to 180 in 2009. That’s insane!

What’s going on, then? I suspect one or more of the following:

  • Worsening of the academic rat-race – the ever-increasing focus on publishing metrics in academia pressures researchers to publish, ideally in high-impact journals. Some may be willing to make up data in order to do so.
  • The rush to compete – Given the prestige attached to publishing first and the role of this prestige in securing grant funding, researchers may be taking shortcuts, overlooking shortcomings in their study designs, or failing to spend enough time verifying their results and data.
  • Commercial involvement – I can’t cite numbers, but my impression is that commercial research funding has increased over the last decade or so, particularly in high-stakes fields such as pharmaceuticals. Commercial funding is associated with bias and poor research practice.
  • Increased detection – It seems likely that today’s increased reliance on information technologies and shared repositories of data and publications would make it easier to detect fraudulent papers. Similarly, since communication is much easier today than it was even 10 years ago, it may be easier for editors to unearth patterns of fraudulent work.

One caveat: this result derives from PubMed, which primarily includes medical and pharmaceutical research, as well as some auxiliary technology and basic science. Does this pattern of misconduct apply in other fields, or is it particular to medicine?

Improved review processes are necessary, but it’s not clear how quickly change will come. Problems with peer review have been acknowledged for more than 20 years, with a report from 1990 showing that only 8% of members of the Scientific Research Society considered it effective as is. Despite this, in most venues, peer review functions the same way it always has.

There may be some movement, however. CHI, for example, includes the alt.chi track in which research is reviewed in a public forum before selection by a jury, which seems to offer a good compromise between open and free criticism, and peer-driven moderation. There’s also a special conference coming up entitled “Evaluating Research and Peer Review – Problems and Possible Solutions” – it was the Call for Papers for this that got me writing this post.

From my perspective, an ideal research review system would at least:

  • Expose all research data and methodology to unlimited, non-anonymous, public, scrutiny. Special rules might be employed to protect commercially sensitive material, but there needs to be a balance.
  • Allow meta-moderation. That is, allow the critique of critiques. To do this, reviewers need to have persistent identities, and signifiers such as the credentials and review history of each user need to be available.
  • Integrate review work into the research contribution of academics. As it is, peer review work is primarily voluntary, and the level of commitment of reviewers is thus presumably highly variable.

What else should a review system incorporate? How could such a system fail? Why might it not be adopted?

Update 2012-05-09: It’s not clear whether the aforementioned study relied on the same set of journals each year, or whether they used the full PubMed database each year. It’s probable that the PubMed mix has changed over the decade; for example, the NIH’s public access policy requiring publicly funded research be placed into PubMed was trialed in 2005, and made mandatory in 2008.


Posted in Mind & Society, Science & Technology, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

I spent Saturday at the HCI for Peace workshop representing the Voices from the Rwandan Tribunal project. It was fairly informal, with only 10 participants, which made it easy for everyone to participate in the discussion. Several participants presented projects they’ve worked on, including:

  • Lahiru Jayatilaka, a Sri Lankan PhD student from Stanford, who presented his work on improving land mine detection systems by tracking the detector tip and allowing the operator to mark detection points that are then displayed back along with the detector’s path, making it easier to determine the shape of an object detected. In trials with the US Army, he also found that his tool significantly aided in training by making it easier for trainers to see the patterns used by students. He’s looking for funding and collaborators to help him bring the tool to maturity so he can start to spread it to NGOs working in land mine detection and removal around the world.
  • Janak Bhimani, a TV director and producer pursuing a PhD at the Keio Media Design lab, who presented a documentary he produced collaboratively with a small group of online volunteers about the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake last year in Japan, called “Lenses + Landscapes“. Based on his experience with it, he’s become interested in tools for greater online collaboration in documentary making and, particular, in documentaries that evolve over time; what he calls the ‘growing documentary’.
  • John Thomas, a CHI veteran from IBM research, who presented his work on building a library of patterns for socio-technical systems that can avoid, deescalate, or assist in the resolution of conflicts. These focused more on a personal level than a societal one, but the general ideas run true to larger scales, and furthermore, large conflicts often emerge from small disagreements. He ran through several examples; here are a couple that struck me:
    • Who speaks for Wolf? – Based on a Native American story, this pattern suggests that in any decision making activity where one or more stake-holders are absent, it is important to identify that fact, and determine whether someone else at the meeting is able to speak with sufficient authority and knowledge on behalf of that stake-holder. By doing this, misunderstandings and conflicts can be avoided.
    • The Rule of Six – Whenever one is forced to make an assumption or interpretation because of limited or biased knowledge, one should attempt to come up with at least 5 other possible explanations before accepting the first (and probably easiest) one. This is particularly true with regards negative assumptions, and is basically a method for giving the benefit of the doubt.
  • Evangelos Kapros, a Greek PhD student at the University of Dublin’s Trinity College, who presented and discussed challenges in information visualization and data management with regards understanding flows of immigration and other critical demographic processes that sometimes lead to conflict.

Also in attendance were Juan Pablo Hourcade, an Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa and organizer of the event; Lisa Nathan, an Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia, co-PI on the Rwandan project, and a former student at UW; Daniela Busse, from Samsung Research; Daisy Yoo, a student and colleague of mine at UW also working on the Rwandan project, and Kelsey Huebner, an undergraduate assisting Juan-Pablo with running the workshop. Neema Moraveji, director of the Calming Technology Lab at Stanford, was not present, but gave a short presentation on his work in ‘calming technology’ via Skype.

As well as individual project presentations, we also discussed the place of HCI in peace-making, peace-keeping, and harmony. A number of points and questions were salient:

  • The complexity of the term ‘peace’ is challenging, and requires much thought. We seemed to be conceptualizing peace as more than just the absence of war, but as a general promotion of peacefulness, including the avoidance of conflict, the promotion of harmony and calmness in life, and efforts to restore peace and order after events such as natural disasters.
  • The term peace may be over-broad to the point of being meaningless – by attempting to create a movement of HCI for Peace, are we mirroring the beauty queen who naively says she wants to bring about World Peace with her reign?
  • What should the research agenda of ‘HCI for Peace’ look like? Suggested approaches included creating tools like Ushahidi that aid others in peace-seeking efforts, working in the field to create new technical solutions that directly foster peace, and observing and understanding the use of technology by others in working for peace.
  • Who are logical ‘allies’ in this work – what other academics and disciplines should we look to for collaboration?

In the time available, it was impossible to come to any detailed consensus on these issues, and it was generally agreed that further thought and development would be necessary. Interactions magazine has offered us a spot as the cover article in an issue later this year, and we’re hoping that this will give us an opportunity to address these concerns in more depth.

All up, a fascinating and rewarding way to spend a day. Not to mention an excellent lunch and tasty pizza and conversation at the end of the day!


Posted in Conference Notes, Mind & Society, Science & Technology, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Took a break to play Jonas Kyratzes’ recent short game “The Fabulous Screech“.

The Fabulous Screech - copyright Jonas Kyratzes

Play on Kongregate!

It was very sweet, and characteristically humorous, but sad. Without wanting to spoil it for anyone, let me just say that anyone who owns a cat will be able to relate to the main character, the eponymous Fabulous Screech, a cat who runs a circus featuring trained humans. Who knew they could talk!

It won’t take more than 20 minutes to play, and though it’s point-and-click, it, like Jonas’ other Lands of Dream games, is the sort where clicking inspires curiosity, not frustration, as almost every visible feature in every scene is clickable, and every clickable feature is visible.

Anyway, go play it. And click on everything. God’s bookshelf is particularly interesting – I was not surprised to learn he’s a Carl Sagan fan, and it was moving to see how all the other gods sent him birthday cards like that – there might be a culture war here on Earth, but it’s nice that all the various deities can be above all that.

PS – for those who read my last post on patronage, Jonas operates under another variety of patronage that you might find interesting – for a small fee, he and his wife, Verena, create pages of an encyclopedia detailing the Lands of Dream, dedicated to and based on guidance from the contributor. I gave a while back, and got in return the World Mushroom, an entry that captures some of things I treasure rather excellently. For a little more, he’ll even frame and send you the original.


Posted in Games, Reviews | No Comments »

I’m feeling pretty jazzed at the moment about patronage as a funding model for creative endeavours.

It’s a pretty simple idea: instead of today’s dominant practice, where creative works are funded and owned by someone expecting to make money back from advertising or sales through a limited distribution channel, under patronage, creators fund their work by appealing directly to potential fans, asking them to put up funds in advance in return for various rewards and input into the work. Historically, patronage was widespread, and meant that artists, musicians, and philosophers gathered in the courts of sympathetic nobles to seek funding, lending their creativity to the glory of kings and emperors. In return, nobles gained prestige as patrons of the arts as well as substantial influence over the works created.

Today’s patronage models are a little different, in that they rely on a much more broader base of patrons. Instead of seeking out extremely wealthy individuals to fund entire works, creators can appeal to a worldwide audience through the internet, collecting many small contributions directly from the people who care most about their work. This is a good thing for creators and patrons alike:

  • Patrons are more likely to receive satisfying entertainment, as their preferences factor directly into the creator’s decision making process.
  • Creators have a guaranteed audience of fans in the form of their patrons. Since creators often labor under artistic motivations, this can mean a lot – it’s easier to feel confident in one’s creations if you know that others like the general idea. In other words, it’s easier to take risks.
  • There is greater opportunity for ‘pure’ creative vision as middlemen who muddy the waters by pandering to advertisers and the lowest common denominator are eliminated.
  • Creators are encouraged to think about their works upfront, and their ideas are subject to initial scrutiny that can validate and refine them. There’s less chance of groupthink, and a more articulate design process.
  • Niche genres can thrive, particularly if they’re willing to start out small and run lean. Projects that address many fewer fans can be funded.
  • The public domain is richer. Since funding is provided up front by patrons, there’s less reason for creators not to put their work in the public domain, enriching us all. In particular, it makes it easier for non-fans to try out things they wouldn’t normally buy, potentially converting them into fans.

It might be that patronage isn’t the best funding model for all creative works, but here’s a few examples where it’s been successful:

  • Kickstarter is a thriving internet example. Through it, I’ve contributed to open source recordings of classical music, RPG-themed short films, and comics. Their model allows creators to make proposals through video and written presentations, to offer rewards for patrons at different levels, and to selectively fund projects based on whether a sufficient amount is raised. Projects range from a few hundred dollars to several million, and support from computer games to music, crafts to special events, and gadgets to fine art.
  • Most modern orchestras run on a hybrid patronage / ticket fee model. The Seattle Symphony, for example, runs an annual budget of $24m on about half ticket sales, half patronage. Patrons get additional benefits such as social events, access to musicians, and lectures, as well as a certain level of prestige (much as noble patrons once did).
  • Wolfgang Baur’s Open Design project does tabletop RPG design on a patronage model, allowing patrons to participate in the design process, democratizing not only the funding, but also the creativity itself.

There are many more – these are just the few I’ve paid close attention to.

As traditional publishing industries that rely on firmly controlled distribution of hard-copy works continue to erode, it’ll be very interesting to see how patronage evolves. The fact that big box book stores are dying doesn’t mean people don’t want to read, and the collapse of newspapers has little to do with the public’s interest in the news. It’s just that the old business models are increasingly being undermined. I don’t foresee corporate creative endeavours going away, but I do expect them to become less dominant in the long term, and patronage seems a likely means of that happening.

Questions for comments:

  • If patronage comes to dominate creative endeavour, what negative implications might there be?
  • Are there any creative domains in which patronage won’t work?
  • Is it possible to fund really big projects (AAA game titles, movies, cathedrals) with patronage?

Posted in Concepts, Economics, Science & Technology, The Future | 2 Comments »

While driving back from Akaroa this evening, I got to thinking about enjoyment and time, probably as a result of the flow that navigating windy roads always brings. It seems to me that you can think of enjoyable or otherwise positive experiences as existing in four possible temporal spaces:

  • Before – Looking forward to something is often as enjoyable as doing it. In some cases, experiences seem positive in the future, but negative once they’re done, or while you’re doing them – fish and chips, for example, never tastes quite as good as it seemed when I was paying for it. Similarly, one can be disappointed, perhaps by a bad movie or a corked bottle of wine.
  • During – What we normally mean when we say something is enjoyable. That we are happy or content while doing it. Flow fits in here.
  • Immediately after – A positive feeling immediately after completing a task. For me, exercise is a good example – I feel like crap while I’m doing it, but great afterwards. Similarly, writing a paper or doing the dishes.
  • Far later – Nostalgia, remembering through rose-tinted glasses. Holidays always seem better in retrospect, particularly if you were covered in mosquito bites and sunburn at the time. For me, a trip to Fiji in 1997 fits well here, as I got food poisoning shortly after arrival and spent the whole trip being ill, yet I still have vivid and fond memories of the place we stayed.

Two short observations, then:

  • It’s not necessary that an activity result in positive experiences in each of these four time periods, and in fact, few do. That’s OK, and is maybe good to remember when immersed in a time period that some activity doesn’t perform well in.
  • Innately, we seem to greatly privilege the during time period. It’s good to enjoy oneself while doing something, but during is often much shorter than after. I certainly find thinking about how I’ll feel after I’ve done something to be a great motivator.

Posted in Concepts, Philosophy | No Comments »

Played in Big Gaming Week 2011 this week, a gathering of friends now scattered around the world as part of the NZ diaspora, drawn home for Christmas and New Years. We’re in our eighth or so year now. In addition to the normal LAN, board, and RP games, we added a few things to line-up, including a big group brunch, a wine tasting (with games, of course), and Artemis, a 6 player starship bridge simulator. I had hoped to try a 24-hour game design activity of some kind, but it didn’t happened.

The wine tasting, though, worked out well. It grew from our inability to secure transportation for a Waipara trip, and ended up as a day long tasting in Tony’s living room.

All up, we had 14 bottles, of which 11 were tasted by all, one (a rosè) was consumed by Naomi and Steph during the whites tasting, with a little help from myself, another was corked, and the dessert wine got left too late. Hamish, now a professional wine blogger (thanks to the spectacular largess of Naomi & Tony), blogged tasting notes for reds and whites. I struggled throughout the day to put notes into CellarTracker, but the backwardness of the UI got in the way, and I eventually gave up to play Borderlands with Paula. Later, though, I discovered the beta-version of CellarTracker, whose interface is much improved, and put my notes together into what they call a ‘tasting story’, being basically a collection of notes structured into a write-up. Worked out quite well.

That CellarTracker is finally doing something about its user interface is really great news – it’s always been the most comprehensive wine tracking service out there, and being built and maintained by a committed wine-enthusiast who just wants to make a living building a tool that he loves, it’s likely to remain that way rather than settling into being ‘good-enough’ like many commercial systems end up doing once the user base and revenue streams are solid. I can now happily recommend it to others, provided you’re using the beta interface; if you’re not, expect to be frustrated.

Anyway, much great wine was consumed; my picks were the Taylor’s Shiraz 2009 and the 3 Stones Pinot Noir, with honorable mentions for the 2011 Saints gewürztraminer, and the 2009 Two Tracks chardonnay (though only if you like them oaky and buttery). Shall have to buy a few more of these for posterity, I think..


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