November 2008 Archives

My Part is Finished

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I finished the rough draft of my internet fiction game affectionately titled Bomb Squad.  I am very pleased with my finished product until someone tries to use it tomorrow and messes everything up.  That's okay, half the battle is preparing yourself for the shock of a flawed program, I hope.

The game now has a grand total of 31 objects in one room according to Inform 7.  I believe about fifteen of those are my dummy objects, while the other half are either useful objects in plain sight or hidden.  Given a little more time and energy, I would get real creative with the game and make several red herrings instead of just having dummy objects.  A red herring would lead you down the wrong path for three or four turns, wasting more precious time than a dummy object, which is one or two turns and then finished.  Sadly, I ran out of ideas for nonsensical items to put in the lobby.

This leads me to the other part of what I accomplished today.  While I overloaded the room with objects, the game has lost a large portion of its realism for my trademark cynical humor.  A lot of the descriptions for the objects may or may not make sense to the player, but I tried to make them funny.  As a whole, I think the game is more interactive than it was two weeks ago.  It lacks consistent tone, but I think has something that will speak to the player.

And if it does, I have created a survey for my usability testers.  I know that we aren't supposed to rely on our classmates for the bulk of our testing, but I had no one to test it at home, so I will need to conduct tests in class tomorrow, and hopefully the survey will give me a little bit of an edge.

The one thing that I do wish I knew how to do is publish the game online and draw just general, unsolicited criticism.  If anyone could help with that, it would be greatly appreciated.

I am excited to see how Bomb Squad holds up. This was the only final project of the semester that was bearable to work with.

This Just In...

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Okay, the last week has been a little crazy so I have not been blogging as much as I should be.  To make up for that, I will drop a line over break to let all of my fans know how I am doing (if there are fans out there).

But there has not been that much to blog about lately.  The robot works just fine now, all three to four steps to get it working that is.  There is now an alternate ending involving the wires; I know it is cliche, but it felt as if there were a disproportionate number of "bad" endings.  I spruced up some of the descriptions - one of the bomb explosions was just "KABOOM!"  That was a little boring, so there is now a little pun inside that ending.  My final addition today was a final, alternate ending.  I really hope that one of my testers makes the mistake of choosing this because it comes out of nowhere.  It is quite the surprise!

After seeing all the work that I have put into this, I do not know whether to be in awe or contempt of the people who write IF games with 40 different endings.  On the one hand, it takes a lot of skill and intelligence to program something like that.  On the other, who does not have enough of a life that they have an extra three or four hours a day to write alternate endings?  Given I have a single room, but I am running out of things to put in the room, and ways to describe those things.  Hence the reason why my one ending does not even make sense.  So, what I am basically saying is, if you know anything that needs to be in the lobby of an apartment building besides a desk, table, chair, carpet, robot, and bomb, let me know.  I just need some fresh new ideas.

And drop by some of these, too, for some fresh new ideas yourself.

Update

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I did not have as productive a period as I would have liked this period, but I am on my way nonetheless.  The robot is starting to work, but with the way I have it set up right now, there is no possible way to win the game.  No matter what you enter in when the battery is in the robot, the bomb goes off.  However, the game is in its final stages of plot.  After the robot begins working, I just have to add the "dummy" scenery, and the game will be ready for some beta testing.  I am starting to get excited about how my game is coming along.

Alpha Test

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I would first like to thank Christina for taking the time to test a very unfinished term project.

I gained two useful bits of information from my usability test.  The first was about searching.  When I play IF games, I usually just use the command "examine," and usually abbreviate that to just "x."  I did not think of people typing search, and consequently some of my descriptions failed to manifest themselves.  I have since incorporated that into my game for every object that I can think of.

The other thing that happened was with the timing of the game.  I had cut the timer in half to ten, because I figured that there were about half the available actions that the final version of the game would have.  That was not the problem.  Because you do not start out with zero moves, the game actually allowed the player eleven turns instead of ten.  That is something else that will be fixed for beta testing.

There is also the fact that for some reason I made my beloved robot (if that thing does not make me insane by the end of the project, it will be a miracle) scenery, negating its presence to the player.  I am glad that this testing revealed that to me so that I could fix a central element to the plot.

By the end of the class, I was able to have my robot prepared to be workable though.  The only thing that I need is the coding to make it take commands from the user, and the accursed thing will be finished until the final tests.  I also still need to program the bomb for some diffusing sequences, and add a couple of other ways for the game to end other than timing out.  All in all, though, I am satisfied with where I am at for this game.

Are others satisfied?

Alpha Prep

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Tomorrow is alpha release day in my Writing for the Internet class.  While I am starting to see the game come together, the programming is very slow.

The game will take place in a single room, and it takes twenty turns for the bomb to explode.  There are really only four relevant sections of action, which is what I have created now.  I think that it makes things fairly clear for alpha testing.

The finished version of the game is going to play on the player's desire to inspect every object.  There will be certain "dummy" objects that exist for the sole purpose of making the player waste a turn.  In that way, I will make a simple game very complex and intense.

I ran into two problems.  The first was that I have some very key objects in containers, but in the  room description these object stand out as clear as day.  This kind of ruins the enigmatic part of my puzzles. I think that I can figure it out tomorrow, I was just tired after spending a lot of time making my desk drawer an openable container, and more than a little frustrated with Infom 7.

My other problem involves my little friend the robot. One of the problems is just like the leaf scenario that was done in class.  I do not want the robot to act without the battery pack in it.  That is an easy thing to solve.and I just needed access to my e-mail.  The other thing that I want the robot to do is to act based on some input that the player enters in.  If you enter in the wrong thing, the game is over; KABOOM!  If you enter in the right command, the robot disarms the bomb and everyone is happy.  That is the most complex idea that I have for my game and I will need a bit of help to make this good.  If everything else fails, I want this part of my game to succeed.

That is the slow progress that my project has undergone over the weekend.

Bomb Squad Progress

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So, I was thinking of doing a game with a strong NPC for my term project, but two things occurred.  The first is that NPCs are hard to create, which I already knew but this talked me out of it.  The second is that I played Galatea, and I realized how hard it is to play a game without action.  I must have seen, "You cannot form the question into words," about a million times in an hour yesterday.

 

I also did not like the dialogue.  It would take the question I was asking, make it more specific, and then answer it with something that was even more vague than my question.  I asked Galatea about life, and I got a page long answer about nothing.  I think that would ruin the whole NPC idea for me.  If you are going to have a good NPC, it needs to interact with almost anything that you throw at it, which means that I would have to write out a ton of answers to questions, statements, etc.  I just don't think that people like you putting words in their mouths.  I think that you would also have to write out responses to all the actions that a player might possibly make, so not only do I have to write for every possible conversation, I have to write for every possible event.  To make a long story short, I do not have the time to create a good NPC game.

 

After understanding that, though, I had a good idea for the game that I do want yesterday.  Basically, you are a member of the bomb squad, and you have to disarm a time-bomb that is in an apartment building.  Here is what I thought of yesterday:

·         You are a member of the bomb squad.

·         A time bomb is in the middle of a high-rise apartment building.

·         The robot you have sent in is no longer working due to a power outage.

·         You must enter the building to save the day.

·         There are four different rooms.

·         The time bomb is in the lobby.

·         There is a generator in the basement.

·         There is a stairwell.

·         An apartment door is open on the first floor.

There are two things that I need to figure out before moving on to the alpha testing.  The first is understanding the bomb puzzle.  It is central to the action of the game, and I need to figure out how I want the bomb to work, and what clues I can give about how to dismantle it.  I really do not want to make it the cliché "Red your dead, green your keen," phrase about cutting the cords.  To be honest, I do not really want cords on my bomb because they are so hackneyed.

 

I also need to understand how to program in the countdown on the time-bomb.  This will probably be the part that needs the most testing.  I want to have a specific number of turns that you have until the bomb explodes, but how much time is the big question.  If I go too long, then everyone will be able to solve the puzzle without many problems.  If I do not go long enough, the bomb will explode, and no one will beat the game.  This is probably what the beta testing would attempt to solve.

 

I also have the idea of bringing a phone in somehow.  Maybe this bomb squad guy is an idiot, which is why he got sent into the building in the first place, and he has to use a phone (or walkie-talkie) to talk to the chief.  I probably would not call him an idiot, but I like the idea of making the player phone a friend for help.  That brings the NPC aspect back into the game, but there is not as much programming to do for this.

 

The final thought I have is that the opening sequence needs to be better.  It is pretty lame: the power goes out, and the bomb-defusing robot stops working.  I am fairly certain that the robots police use for stuff like this are wireless, and pretty durable, so I need to figure out a way to get it out of the picture without being to "cheesy."  I have a few ideas that are not too good.  The first is that the robot was in the shop on a day that nothing was supposed to go wrong; very cheesy.  The next is that the robot is caught out in a thunderstorm and is either hit with a bolt of lightning, or becomes waterlogged; neither idea is very appealing to me.  I could have a  sniper shoot the robot from the top of the building, but that would make things too complex and nonsensical.  If there was a sniper around, why would he shoot the robot and not the police; the police would pay more attention to him than the bomb if he did that.

 

So those are the four questions that I pose to you, faithful readers. What should the bomb be like?  How long should the bomb wait to go off?  How should I bring in a small amount of NPC interaction?   And most importantly, how should I get rid of the robot?  Thank you for helping me progress.

Concentration

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This is my third portfolio for my Writing for the Internet Class.  I think that this has been the most interesting period for this class so far.  Only a week ago, I was worried that I would not have enough blogs to make a good portfolio.  That was before I wrote three blogs in a day last Thursday-Friday.

Looking back, that is how this semester of the semester has gone.  I look back on what I have done this section of the course and I realize how concentrated it has been.  I remember days that I would spend two or three hours playing interactive fiction, and then weeks where I would almost forget I was taking the class.  I learned how to put together quality work on very short notice, like the usability test that I conducted Friday night after learning of the assignment.  I do not have the assignment on the web, but here are the ones that I do have.

Coverage

  • Krug Ends - This one quotes his final chapter to discuss the thesis of the book.
  • Intro to IF - I discuss my experiences with IF before the class delved into the subject heavily.
  • What Rules? - I take a hard look at what keeps things running smoothly according to Wikipedia.

As always, there is a link to the course website for your convenience, though I have started intertwining it with the body of the entries better.

Timeliness

I have waited for this section to come up for a long time.  I have had the pleasure of posting most of my entries at least 24 if not 48 hours before the due-date.  Here are just a few.

  • Tabs are art - Find out why, in this early blog.
  • End of Fun? - Another blog that Krug inspired me to write early.
  • Not Really - This was the actual end of Krug, and ahead of the curve as well.
  • The Wikipedia Blogs - Three of them in all.  All written three days before the due date.

Interaction

This was another area of concentration.  Some entries would gain a large response while others would be seemingly unnoticed.

  • Angry Wikipedian - Just kidding! I received some interesting, unexpected comments on this one.
  • Missing Krug - People had a lot to say about his departure, myself included.
  • Editing History - It causes people to start talking pretty quickly.
  • Disabled Use - I kind of sat back and let the entry work its magic on its own.

Depth

Discussion

I probably could have been better in this area of my blogging.  I was so busy that I would just write stuff to get it done.  That being said, here is some of the best commenting that I did.

Even though my work was more sporadic this time, I was more pleased with the quality tenfold over last time.  Of course, it does not matter what I think, so keep commenting.

The Absolute Krug

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I'm not going to talk to long today; I think that I have spoken pretty extensively on Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think in the five entries that I wrote.

The book has really forced me to rethink the way that I use websites.  Given enough time and the fact that I am not trying to work as fast as possible for my Writing for the Internet Class, I actually notice the subtle little nuances in websites.  For instance, I noticed that on Wikipedia, no matter what tab you click on, the "article" tab stays at the front (along with the tab that you clicked on).  I have become really anal about the tabs after the one section, and yes they are art :-)  I also notice some of the little slip-ups in navigation; there has been nothing that I remember, but when it happens I think, "Steve wouldn't like this."

It is also good thought for my term project.  I noticed, thanks to the book, that designing anything for computers is less about the designer, and more about the user.  When I start to feel myself getting over the top, I will ask myself whether the user will like this or not.

My only criticism is that the book did not focus enough on usability testing itself.  Krug focused more on the little nuances that make anything useful, and less on how to find those things out.  I still have a lot of questions about how to do a good usability test.  The book is designed to sell usability testing ("Do...only as long as it does not keep you from doing more testing..."), but not making your testing better.  Personally, I thought he made a good case for testing from the beginning, and I would have liked to see more of the places that I could go with testing.

My final comment has to do with exactly the thing I was I told not to say.  If Krug were making another edition of Don't Make Me Think, I would recommend updating some of the website references.  I understand that they illustrate some things very well, but it makes me wonder why I should use those techinques if the website is extinct.  If I use them now, who is to say that I will not meet the same fate as those before me?  I guess that I could meet that fate without doing those things, too.

I would recommend this book to everyone as a light-read that will still make you question the world around you.  As we discussed in class, everyone can use usability testing, you just need to figure out how.

Revisionist History

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It felt like I was in 1984 when editing the two Wikipedia pages.  I could destroy entire sections of history without even a passing thought.

Perhaps, because that idea made me so uncomfortable, that is why I only chose to add two sentences on my two edited pages.  I also did not remove anything or mess around with the formatting.  I am just not comfortable making myself sound like an expert or even an amature-expert, especially not for the entire world.

I just got the feeling that someone who was incredibly self-righteous would ram something down my throat, and make me look like a fool.  In the two days since the editions, though, no one has appear to touch what I wrote, and the Seton Hill page has been edited three or four times since.

I have been able to do everything this class has asked me to, up to this point.  I am not comfortable saying, "This is fact, and this is not."  That is probably why I am an English major and a philosophy minor; there are no facts in either of those fields.  Part of it is guilt on my part, too.  I felt like I should have done a lot more research on the two subjects than I did in one morning.

With all of that being said, I did create a user account for myself for unknown reasons.  If you ever see Griffdude pop up somewhere, which I highly doubt you will, stop by and start a discussion with me.

The Sausage Factory

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For some reason, I love the metaphor comparing getting a behind-the-scenes view to the kids who get a field trip to the sausage factory.  So, the experience of looking at all the different pages of a Wikipedia article was like the trip to the sausage factory.

Anyway, I was unsure where to start, so I clicked on the random article link.  The page that came up was for pitcher Mark Mulder.  The first thing that I noticed on the editing page was the heading that looked like Movable Type (what this blog is written on) while the body looked like hypertext which we coded from scratch.  At the bottom of the body, however, it looks like you just type text normally.  I do not know how to create the heading, but the rest of it seems pretty self-explanatory.

I then entered the discussion page, which I expected to look like the comments at the bottom of blogs.  Instead, there were a bunch of different groups giving the article a bunch of different ratings that I really did not understand.  My guess would be that they are saying this article needs quite a bit of improvement since most of the ratings were "start-class."  The history page did look like what I expected: all of the editions with the date, time, and user who changed it.

The final part of this assignment was to compare the pages of Seton Hill University and Saint Vincent College.  Seton Hill's page lacks a lot of history; basically it says the the school was founded in 1883, men became more prominent in the '80s, and then it became a University (but does not specify when).  There is a lot of empty space in the University's past there.  However, the page explains the programs like the Masters in Popular Fiction, the Holocaust Center, and E-Magnify.  Saint Vincent's page also lacks 150 years in history; apparently nothing happened between 1846 and 1983.  The page chooses to focus on the traditions of the college like Founders' Day.  There are also more notable alumni on this page than Seton Hill's.  I would have to say that I am disappointed in the overall lack of useful information on either page. 

Wikipedia('s lack of) Rules

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The first thing that I noticed about the key policies (other than the fact that it says in the introduction that Wikipedia basically has no policies) was the vagueness of it all.  "Wikipedia works by consensus." When you read on you discover that the consent of the users is "an inherent part of the Wikipedia process," and nothing more.  Of course, you can click on the link (which I did), but it tells you everything and nothing at the same time.  Other rules tell you to "be respectful" without bothering to explain what showing respect to other users really is.  I will admit that respecting copyrights and using verifiable information explained things very lucidly.

Then there are the Five Pillars of Wikipedia.  Though that is similar to Islam, Wikipedia falls short of a religion :-).  The five pillars say that Wikipedia: is an encyclopedia; has a neutral point of view; is free content; has a code of conduct; has no firm rules (besides the four other minor guidelines).  The last link goes further by telling you to "Ignore all rules," contradicting everything that came before it.  These two pages are meant to give an overview of the policies, but on the Five Pillars page there are around 32 links in the body of the page.

From this I deduce two things.  The first is that Wikipedia is so complex that they do not want you to understand how it really works.  The second is that Wikipedia's rules are so vague that the site does not "work," it merely runs in every random direction.  The thing that truly makes me nervous about Wikipedia is the fact that I did not see anything besides copyright infringement or original research that could or could not be enforced.  "In either case, a user who acts against the spirit of our written policies may be reprimanded, even if technically no rule has been violated."  My question to you is: who decides what gets reprimanded, and based on what?  To me this sounds like anarchy or a dictatorship of academia.

For  a completely different dictatorship of academia, stop here.

Wikipedia: Good or Bad?

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How useful is Wikipedia for academic work?

Lisa Spiro would say that it is useful in some contexts.  While it is not good to base the entire topic of your paper on, you can use some of the information without fear because the history page of the entry keeps track of all the changes, and stores edited entries.  She tells us that the fact that anyone can make an edition should not deter us either because "good stuff often emerges" from the battle between vandals and "Wikipedia guardians."  This text left me with a feeling of ambiguity.  It is okay to use it here and now, but don't trust it too much.  Enough trust can be placed in the citation, but not enough that you can make it the central point of an argument.

Andrew Orlowski takes the opposite stance.  He portrays Wikipedia, through the John Seigenthaler debacle, as a anarchistic society on the internet.  He says that through a lack of rules and authority, Wikipedia places the blame on the user for not correcting the changes.  He finds Wikipedia to have no value at all because amatures and vandals can ruin all sorts of information.  While he does mirror my feelings to a large extent, I cannot agree with him on the idea of user culpability.  I am not saying the Mr. Seigenthatler had to come along and fix the article himself, but out of all the users of Wikipedia, no one caught that mistake and rectified it.  The other thing is that he does not describe Wikipedia as public opinion.  On Wikipedia's brief overview of its policies (which I will write an entry on later) describes consensus as the number one policy of the website.  Of course, they do not explain the concept in detail on the page, but basically that means that when two parties are in conflict over some information, they should arrive at a compromise.  From Wikipedia, you are (hopefully) gaining information about how a majority of the people feel about an issue, or at the very least, where the middle road lies.

Finally, I discovered from Spiro's article, Alan Liu's Wikipedia Use Policy.  I really liked the information that came from Liu's site.  It is short, only two main points and three sub-points, and explicit, explaining why you should not use any encyclopedia for information that is complex, controversial, or central to your argumen.  I thought that he makes an interesting argument for writing down the exact time that you visited a page in your citation.

Ultimately, after reading three articles on the topic, I would inveigh against using Wikipedia as a source.  Everyone agrees, though to varying extents and degrees of importance, that the entries are just too volatile.  The information you get on there now may not be there in five seconds.  I remember finding "Johnny Cash sucks butt" at the bottom of a list of personalities from the '60's, then clicking refresh, and it was gone.  With such ambiguity about whether the information is accurate and will still be there when your sources are verified, I cannot bring myself to understand going through the trouble of finding the information on Wikipedia, and then going back only to find out that it has been destroyed.  I hate research enough already, I sure as heck am not going to waste my time on Wikipedia.

Another website that changes by the minute: EL236.

Now it's Really Over...For Real

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Don't Make Me Think finally finshed today.  I promised myself that I would not cry.  Stay strong, Jed.

Anyway, I think the last chapter was just to expand a little more on two of the points that he slightly alludes to in the body of the book.  The first is a site that asks for two much personal information, and the second is a sight with too much "pizzaz."  Krug titled his book Don't Make Me Think, but I think the more apt title would be Think About Your user.  In the middle of both letters, Krug says "...you don't mind offending them..." and "...you care more about your image than what you do to them," when explaining what it looks like when you employ these things on your site.  He even says later on in the second letter, "Think about your own experience..."

For the average person, it is hard to empathize with the user.  Often we have a tendency (like I am doing in this sentence) to project our feelings onto others.  And even when we don't have those feelings, it is hard to be certain of whether your viewpoint is correct...without usability testing.  Usability testing is pure, unadulterated user-empathy hit over your head with a baseball bat.  You understand how the user feels because the statistics are showing that without human bias.  You cannot ignore them, or put them to your own uses, because the numbers don't lie.  Usability testing leads to more empathy in website design, and I think we all like it when things are seen from our point of view.

Now, see things from others' points of view.

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Diane Ludlow on My Part is Finished: Does anyone how to trademark a
Daniella Choynowski on My Part is Finished: I never thought of that...prog
Dennis G. Jerz on This Just In...: You could search Flickr or You
David Wilbanks on This Just In...: Hmmmm.....mail boxes? An uncon
Jed Fetterman on Alpha Test: Thanks, for the help. I'm jus
Daniella Choynowski on Alpha Test: I've gotten so used to using "
Jed Fetterman on Alpha Prep: Thanks Dr. Jerz. That sounds
Dennis G. Jerz on Alpha Prep: You can make objects "scenery"
Jed Fetterman on Bomb Squad Progress: I think I might use the blue/r
David Wilbanks on Bomb Squad Progress: You could just make it so the
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