Friday, October 29, 2010

Acronyms and MMOs

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, we had games like World of Warcraft: multiplayer, Dungeons and Dragons-based, online worlds. Except they were text. They were called MUDs or MOOs, MUD for Multi-User Dungeon and MOO for MUD Object Oriented (a comment about the programming behind it).

We also had Dungeons and Dragons and a whole slew of other role-playing games, called RPGs.

Notice these all adhere to the three-letter acronym standard, which also has a three-letter acronym, TLA.

Eventually graphics and bandwidth improved, and we had graphics-based versions of MUDs. People started calling the MMORPGs, which was just stupid. No one called them MUDRPGs or MOORPGs. MMO would have not only fit the TLA standard, it would have thematically matched MUD and MOO, besides being visually similar to MOO (MMO, MOO, although they are "m-m-o" and "moo" like a cow, respectively, and MUD is "mud" like dirt).

Currently there are some people who use MMO, thankfully, yet there are, rather oddly, others who refer to MMOs as MMOGs. This is strange for three reasons:
  1. It does not conform to the previous acronym method for these objects (MUD, MOO).
  2. It does not conform to the TLA standard.
  3. There is no other "MMO" so it's not as if MMOG is a clarification, the G is extraneous.
You could argue that MMOs are indeed Massively Multiplayer Online Games, and so you have to have the G, but given that an acronym drops so many letters already, why not one more? We already lost the Role Playing part. MMO is still just as clear, and as an acronym is 25% shorter than MMOG. (Overall, MMOG drops 27 letters, and MMO drops 28, which is not a significant difference in the loss of original information.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Apple, Handhelds, and Disruption in Markets

Every time I see an advertisement for a touch phone, smart phone, or whatever you call them, I can only think of how Apple created this working technological system and the market. Really they are touch-screen handheld computers, but they come marketed like phones, so we call them phones and think of them like phones--computers had modems built in, at one point, and we could actually make phone calls on them, but no one ever referred to a computer as a phone.

I don't want to say "the market for these devices wouldn't have existed without Apple," since that's not true, the market did exist before Apple made the iPhone, and that's why the iPhone immediately sold so well. However it is true that these smart phone, or touch-screen handhelds (TSH is not a good acronym, though), would not exist today without some company having made the move first and having a positive market response, and in this case, such an overwhelmingly positive response that every other phone player wants in on the game.

And that's why we have to think about disruptive technologies.

I am not, by far, the first to point this out. The radio powers in some decade in the past sat on the newer, better, FM technology since their entire empire was built on AM radio, and their manufacturing process didn't make radios that could tune to FM signals, and none of the radios out there could tune to FM. Eventually they rolled it out. I have read how companies fear new technologies, since it is risky, changing what you are doing is risky, and people fear losing their jobs if the company shifts to something new.

Thus, Apple. Not a player in the phone market. No one at Apple stood to lose much if the iPhone wasn't a hit. But they also had experience with the iPod, the iPod as part of the larger iTunes system, and they could learn from their earlier Newton, from Palm, and from RIM's Blackberry. And given than the iPhone is really a computer, Apple had experience in that market.

None of the established phone makers would have made an iPhone knock-off, like they all do now, it was simply too risky. They didn't have the experience, they were locked into thinking about cell phones and not touch-screen hand helds, and they didn't have an existing infrastructure into which they could connect the device (iTunes). It is possible that individuals or teams at the more innovative cell phone companies tried to push an iPhone-like idea, but it wasn't until Apple blew the cell market open did anyone else make one. And of course it isn't actually the cell market, it's something new that people took a while to figure out, just like the iPad.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sci-Fi and Victorian Grammar Rules

I've seen commentary somewhere about split infinitives and Star Trek ("To boldly go!"), but it only recently clicked with Star Wars and "These are not the droids for which you are looking for," with its preposition. I've written about Victorian grammar rules before (and according to Google I am pretty much the only person who refers to them as that, which is... odd... given that I didn't make up the phrase) and a piece by David Foster Wallace about such things.

Now, if anyone can pull off using formal written English when using spoken English, Alec Guinness was one of those people, but it would have been jarring.

For the Star Trek intro quote, splitting the infinitive makes for better cadence/rhythm/meter.

If we look at sci-fi as being about the possible, well, there you have it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Facebook's Insane Application Allowances

I fired up Apple's iPhoto Uploader for Facebook, and I hadn't done so before so had to connect the app with my Facebook account. To do so you have to give permission to the app to do a variety of things (see photo), maybe. Although presented here in a nice visual list, this seems to be the standard list of things you have to give every app in Facebook when you want to use it (so I use practically no apps).

The list is insane.

iPhoto Uploader doesn't need to do any of those things. Does this mean it is going to? Or it might? Or is it just standard boilerplate and it will only upload photos and nothing more? Standard boilerplate would make the job of the people at Facebook a lot easier -- "Just use this text, the lawyers approved it, no app does all that, most do very little." But it's not at all clear what iPhoto Uploader will do, and I just said it could do all of those things.

I don't want it to, and it doesn't need to, post to my wall, access any of my information, access relationships, and it certainly doesn't need to access my friends' information. No way no how. And really it shouldn't, that would be a ton of info that I don't think Apple needs, although in this age of data mining who knows. All it needs to do is access my Facebook photo space to upload photos.

Edit: Oh look at that. "New Facebook privacy breach involves apps leaking user data," at boingboing.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Community and Dwarf Fortress

I haven't posted much lately, besides working on the book I've been playing studying the game Dwarf Fortress (available for Windows, OSX, and Linux) and the culture of its fans. It is a difficult game for at least two reasons: One, it is a difficult game (you have to micromanage a ton of stuff, more as you grow your fortress), and two, the interface is brutal. And there is no winning the game. There is no win condition. There is only eventual death for your Dwarves.

The game, without an added tileset, is all in ASCII. No, not text, ASCII. So yes it looks like text, but it's not words. The 2D world is presented in ASCII (but it's a 3D world, you scroll up and down through levels). That E over there? An elephant. T? That's a troll. O? A giant Olm. Lowercase c? A small cat, aka a kitten. But not everything is letters. I use a tileset, since I found the original flavor of DF absolutely impossible, especially when combined with the difficulty of the game for newbies. (So actually those letters are the ones I get in the tileset, they may or may not be the ones in the un-tilesetted game interface.) Here are some screenshots at Bay 12.

Try reading this review, which says, "nothing about it is simple. Dwarf Fortress is immense, hugely complicated, insanely detailed, and uses only ASCII characters for graphics." And more!

But this does not stop the fanbase. In fact, given that people often emotionally buy into something stronger if they had to put more effort into it, we can see why this might be so (and is for some, if you can get over the learning curve, which is really more like a learning cliff it is so steep). Here is a simplified flowchart of the game. Keep in mind some DF fan made that flowchart.

But we see a lot of things that people do with other stuff are the things people are doing with Dwarf Fortress.

Fans made a wiki, and have updated it across major version changes. (You will want it open whenever you play.)

Fans made tutorials, since the game is impossible without them. (Here's one, and here is the wiki page with several.)

Fans have modded the game with tilesets (again, impossible without, except for the real die-hards). Here's one that is pretty amazing. Here's a page with links to mods and tilesets.

Fans have made DF art and stories based on gameplay. (Well worth a look, great art style, and funny, note the grim humor.)

Fans start up a new game, and then hand it off to someone else, to let them run the fortress, and they write it up. (This is for an older version of DF, which I think had just one level. Note the grim humor.) (To use and paraphrase Sony's and MM's LittleBigPlanet tagline, which I use all the time, they played, they created, they shared.)

There are of course forums, where players help out by answering other players' questions (so I learned that flux needs to be on the same level as your smelter and forge or it won't be available, it's bugged and was driving me crazy).

It's fun. (I didn't link that for no good reason, by the way. Note the grim humor.)

But the fun (as defined above in that link) is pretty amazing, and relates to the absolutely grim sense of humor that most DF players exhibit when writing about DF online.

Here's a line from a current (may change!) wiki entry: "It is unknown whether this is a bug or a feature."

From the Bronzemurder saga that you should have read (really):"I play Dwarf Fortress. Sometimes I wish I was a meth addict instead."

There seem to be a lot of stories of accidental floods. Elephants. Elves. Forgotten beasts. Dwarves falling down wells (apparently they do that). Dying of thirst during winter if you have no water source (oops!). On occasion they kill each other. "Things of that nature" where "things of that nature" include pretty much anything.

There are many other examples that I've seen, and that you can find online. I won't say "I will try to post them" since if I never do then it will be one of those never-corrected online sentences, posted and forgotten.

Edit: A Master's thesis on Dwarf Fortress? Why yes, the MIT Comparative Media people have been there and done that.