There’s an interesting thing about food in America. I was expecting food to be quite a bit cheaper here than in the UK. Instead, the prices are essentially the same, but you end up getting an incredible amount more, maybe double the portions in the UK. So this means you end up with the somewhat unusual and sometimes unsatisfactory result of not saving any money, but just eating more (or perhaps leaving more uneaten food).

Of course, consumer goods and electronics are still a lot cheaper over here.

San Diego

So I’ve finally arrived in San Diego. The flight over from Manchester to Washington Dulles was surprisingly pleasant, perhaps because they had these incredibly nifty touchscreen LCDs in the back of every seat, which were playing about 20 video channels and countless Gameboy games. I was even more impressed when LCD screens started to fold down magically from the ceiling during movies. Unfortunately the plane arrived a little late and my mild worry about making my connecting flight to San Diego gradually grew large as the immigration lines crawled along. As soon as I got past the queue, I shot off to pick up my baggage and dump it on the transfer belt.

Now, while I’ll concede that in my (understandable) haste I might have missed a small sign, I don’t remember seeing anything that pointed me to where I should put my baggage for a connecting flight. As a result I had to recheck-in my baggage and endure more queues. Anyway, the upshot of the story is that had the plane taken off on time, I’d have missed it. Luckily (for me) it left the gate about an hour late, and then unluckily (for everyone) it spent another hour dawdling around outside due to thunderstorms.

No jet lag yet. First impressions of San Diego are: great weather. Big city. Still does that annoying thing where some places don’t include sales tax on their advertised prices.


Israeli media article on mmoes (PDF translation). I recently found out that there’s an article online at some kind of Israeli website (feel free to read it if you can understand Hebrew) all about the Cloudmakers, AI, Lockjaw and mmoes. I was quite happy about the way it linked to all the appropriate websites and was a good introduction to the topic. I then thought – hold on a second, as far as I know, I’m the person who coined the term mmoe. So why don’t I get a credit?

Of course, I conceded, it’s possible that someone else thought of mmoe before I did, so I did a Google search on it. As it turns out, there is one instance of someone else using mmoe before I’d thought of it, in February on a messageboard (see the fourth post). This means that I can’t claim to have invented the acronym, although I can take some consolation in the fact that I was the first person to use it in terms of AI-like games. And of course I still should’ve been credited by that article (I find it highly unlikely that the author got mmoe from a single messageboard post). Oh well.

Habitat MUD

Rich emailed in to tell me about a Japanese MUD called Habitat that has over one million users. This MUD was started in 1990 by Fujitsu and upon a cursory inspection appears to have one of the most complex game communities around; Habitat even had its own Yakuza-run casinos! (note that Habitat was originally developed in the US by Lucasfilm in 1987. Also, many of the pages online about Habitat are no longer available, so use the Internet Archive to follow up missing pages).

An MMORPG called Lineage apparently has around four million active players, but it doesn’t have anywhere near the social or political complexity of other much smaller games, so clearly numbers don’t count for everything.

I don’t think that Habitat can be easily compared to recent AI-like mmoes, though. It seems that Habitat is, like most MUDs, driven primarily through interplayer interactions, and that there is no centrally dictated narrative. This is not a criticism; different styles of mmoe serve different needs. However, AI-like mmoes concentrate more on a strong central narrative which players work around, and this provides an altogether different experience to a traditional social MUD. In fact, as several people here have pointed out, they’re quite similar to role-playing games writ large on the Internet.

What was the point to this post, beyond the fact that there’s a cool Japanese MUD called Habitat? It serves to show that AI-like mmoes have a long way to go before they can match the popularity of traditional (and comparatively old) MUDs, and that they are qualitatively different types of mmoes. I have this image in my mind of MUD developers being intricate watchmakers, carefully constructing and tweaking their creations so as to make sure they work as smoothly as possible with the least amount of intervention. Developers of AI-like games would be frantic administrators, attempting to lead artists, authors, designers and actors around the clock in response to players demands – a much more hands-on approach. But this is of course a facile analogy; there’s a broad spectrum of MUDs and AI-like games. Hmm… I can sense a possible article here…

Puzzle Bobble

Six player Puzzle Bobble Online! And it’s completely free! While it’s a bit difficult to decipher the Japanese webpage, it’s easy to find a download link. Given that I’m leaving for San Diego on Thursday and it’s a 7MB download, I might pass until I get back home.

Civ 3 democracy

The Apolyton Civilization 3 Democracy Game. This combines two of my gaming loves – Civ3, and mmoe. The premise is that over one hundred people are democratically playing a game of Civilization 3, electing a cabinet, detailing a constitution, forming numerous political parties and even newspapers. It sounds a little far-fetched but at only 14 turns into the game the participants are having a busy time discussing what to do with their neighbours, France (consensus: destroy them with extreme prejudice) and whether founding a city in a jungle was such a bad idea.

It wouldn’t be possible to do this sort of thing with many games other than Civ3, due to its complexity and richness; likewise, any alternate reality game or mmoe must have a certain level of detail and complexity in order to allow a community to grow up around it to carry the game forward.

Collective Detective is set to be an subscription-based community website that will host areas dedicated to different alternate reality games/mmoes. Developed by players of Microsoft’s AI game, it will be released in early July and it has an impressive featureset geared towards making discussion and playing of games as easy as possible.

It should be a wonderful website for those who join in, and it will be far superior to YahooGroups if it fulfils its expectations. However, I am not certain of its eventual success. I can’t make any definite judgements until I’ve seen the website once its launched and have full details of the subscription costs, but rumours abound of a $10/month subscription cost. I believe that this is just too high.

There have been several posts on YahooGroups detailing why $10/month (or more) is an entirely reasonable amount to pay for the use of Collective Detective, and indeed, to some the cost will be reasonable. To others, its $10/month more than they are paying right now, and its a lot more than other similar websites are charging. Collective Detective is essentially an enhanced messageboard – yes, I know it has a lot of nifty features, but so does Kuro5hin, which is essentially the same thing, and is almost free (K5 recently ran a fundraising drive which produced $35,000 in a few days).

A subscription fee raises a great deal of barriers towards entry of a community. Not only is there the financial aspect – $10/month equals $120/year – but some people, notably minors, simply don’t have the credit cards that are required for payments like these. If there isn’t some kind of trial membership option or limited free membership, then Collective Detective will find it very difficult to get people other than hardcore players to sign up. Furthermore, the limited free membership (the most preferable option) would have to have sufficient features to not completely drive away ‘poor’ users to other free sites (and you can bet that they’ll appear if the genre becomes really popular).

Now, providing that the subscription fee is suitably low – I would be happy to pay something like’s $30/year, for example – and there is some kind of limited free membership, then Collective Detective stands to go a long way. If subscription costs are too high and it’s too difficult for visitors to get a feel of what they’d be paying, then the website could very well go the way of countless other commercial internet ventures.


(Warning: Ramble ahead)

Earlier today, I was listening to a guy describe a project I might do next year for neurobiology, trying to figure out some of the characteristics of Golgi neurones in the cerebellum. The way you can identify these neurones, other than looking at them under a microscope, is to insert a super-thin electrode into them and look at their electrical activity. We’ve all seen what heartbeat readouts look like on TV, like a sharp spike. Well, the electrical output from neurones tends to look like that as well. Different types of neurones exhibit different and unique spike properties, such as spike magnitude, length, and interspike intervals.

So you can identify Golgi neurones by looking at their electrical readouts. This can take a bit of time, having to look back and forth all the time. What many researchers do is to hook up the output signal from the electrode to a loudspeaker, so each spike makes a click. I’m told that in time you can become extremely proficient at identifying different types of neurones very quickly by simply listening to their activity.

This kind of process is of course pattern recognition, and it struck me how skilled humans were at doing this and recognising and distinguishing new types of patterns. To do a similar thing on a computer right now would require a fair bit of coding – it wouldn’t be impossible by any means, and it might not be that difficult. But it would probably take longer than learning it yourself. That’s not to say that doing it on a computer is a waste of time, clearly if you want to automate the neurone-finding procedure and link the electrode position controls to the computer it’s worth it.

Even a computer wouldn’t be able to identify the type of a neurone with perfect accuracy though – neurones aren’t perfect things. It could give you probabilities though. And this set me onto a completely different train of thought. Usually probabilities of events or identification are shown in a numerical or percentage quantity, e.g. it’s 80% likely that it will rain tomorrow. Unfortunately, it seems that humans aren’t all too good at assessing probabilities – for example, it’s been shown that we ignore Bayes theorem while calculation probabilities ourselves.

We don’t say to each other, I think there’s an 80% probability of it raining tomorrow. We say, it’s a fairly good chance that it’ll rain tomorrow. And I think that people would respond to this type of framing probabilities better than numerical ways, in various circumstances. It just makes it more familiar.

And then I realised that we aren’t too hot on judging probabilities that way either, since according to human signal detection theories we can alter our criterion for the probability of events depending on, basically, how we’re feeling. And then I started writing this, and unfortunately I don’t have anything more to say at the moment.

Princess Bride

Just finished reading The Princess Bride. What a wonderful book! Extremely funny, romantic, adventurous, dashing, with enough sorrow and cynicism to balance it out. I don’t think I’ve read a fantasy story like it anywhere else. It makes me wonder whether this type of story can be adapted for alternate reality games/mmoes. I suspect that it would be difficult, but it’d also be very very fun.