OSCON and Write the Docs Adventuring

So I may have slipped up on the whole write one blog post a month minimum promise I made to myself, but I'll make up for it, I swear.

So this last month I have been in the US for a slew of conferences, mostly OSCON and Write the Docs and I thought might as well write a blog about that. Let's get cracking.

OSCON

My fabulous new OSCON Speaker Pants!

My fabulous new OSCON Speaker Pants!

If you've ever read any of my other posts about OSCON I think it will be obvious that I really enjoy OSCON, and for good reason. It is a crazy ecletic mix of tech, community, clever people, and parties.
This year it moved from Portland (my favourite US city) to Austin, now I had never been to Austin before so I was kinda looking forward to the move.
After spending a week in Austin I still consider Portland to be a nicer place but Austin is pretty darn snazzy, in the spirit of overanalysing everything for future argumentative goals let's break down the Austin OSCON vs the Portland OSCON:

Public Transport

Sorry Austin, Portland crushes you like an egg here, a tiny teensy pathetic weakling egg. Your public transport options are shameful, Hobart should not have better public transport than you! Now while you don't control Uber and Lyft pulling out that only made EVERYTHING worse. If I were in charge of OSCON I would have to be reconsidering going back to Austin on the public transport alone.

Conference Centre Layout

Again the point goes to Portland. The ACC is actually nice and large and had plenty of space for OSCON but the design of the building is a big square you move along the outside of. This meant you had to walk rather long distances with no easy way to cut through the middle. The OCC on the other hand (or at least the part OSCON uses) is roughly a horse shoe shape with paths through the middle. The practical upshot of all this is it took less time moving between rooms in the OCC compared to the ACC.

Conference Centre Food

Ok Austin wins this one, while conference food is still conference food the Austin lunches were just that cut above what the OCC ever provided. The Mexican lunch food and speaker lounge breakfasts were the biggest differences. I am a firm believer in that one of the things that makes OSCON a good conference is that the majority of the attendees can sit down and eat lunch together, the ACC did a better job of this than the OCC.

Err lunch..?

Err lunch..?

Weather

Another point to Portland, I like the cold and the occasional drop of rain, Austin on the other hand was mostly muggy and warm (it doesn't deserve the moniker hot because the roads didn't start melting). This one is far more subjective than the rest though so eh...

Wifi

Hands down Austin, and this one wasn't even a challenge, the ACC wifi held up like a champ never faltering the whole time I was there, something I could never say about the OCC. I would guess this has something to do with ACC also being where they host the abhorrent looking SXSW.

After parties

I'd say this one was a draw, some were better at Austin and others at Portland. Austin probably has nicer bars, in that the staff was a little bit more attentive and the layouts just a bit bigger, but on the other hand Portland has better drinks.

The Content

The talks were probably the single largest difference between the years gone past and this year and that has nothing to do with Austin (at least I don't think it does). Changing the conference from five days to four meant there were less talks than in the past.
From my perspective (which is both biased and probably wrong) the talks that got dropped were what I would call the nerd talks, those silly weird talks that realistically have nothing to do with the core of OSCON (open source and the world surrounding that). These talks were ones that argued maybe we shouldn't teach programming in schools, or how to make a computer for $9. Most of the talks I submitted to OSCON were these sort of talks. Sadly without these useless talks, OSCON feel a little less awesome this year compared to the past. A bit more dull, and lacking that little bit of weird that I really like about OSCON.

With that said, I will still keep submitting nerd talks and I encourage others to do as well, they still have a place and I am pretty sure the talk commitee will come back around to seeing it my way. Other than the lack of nerd talks the talks this year were their regular solid and entertaining selves.

Write the Docs

Snazzy looking badge

Snazzy looking badge

So the other conference I went to was Write the Docs NA, a conference for technical writers (the so-called documentarians, a term I find silly simply because you don't actually need to give everything a name, let alone a silly one). Now I am not a technical writer, I write technical books but the skillset required for that is quite a bit different from one who writes documentation meant to be used constantly by thousands.
Nonetheless their program committee accepted mine and Paris' talk on what we called Interactive Documentation Environments, basically live coding environments that support textual markup and supporting notes, we made the argument that these sort of tools are the future of technical writing.

Now if you are interested in the talk the video of it is here and the slides here (as an aside we made the slides in Deckset which is a pretty damn awesome tool, kinda like reveal.js but not ugly), based on the comments on twitter and in the fleshscape it was well received but I want to talk about the rest of the conference and not my part in it.

Write the docs is easily one the best run small conferences I have ever attended, a single track with an adjacent unconference, and long transitions gave it quite a personal feeling. The talks were all really high quality and felt like they had been rehearsed to within a bee's dick of perfection. There were minimal uses of shibboleths so I always felt like I was in the same group as those around me. The conference had a venue tour, a bingo card, and helpful little posters strewn about the place to make it easier to participate and to feel like you belong.

Marvellous stuff

The venue itself was interesting and I am still in two minds about it, The Crystal Ballroom is primarily a dance and theatre hall, this resulted in two interesting properties:

  • the acoustics really worked great when the speaker was talking
  • the room echoed a lot when everyone was speaking

This meant that while talks were on it was a lovely audible experience, but during speaker changeover and during breaks the room got loud and loud fast.
The other strange thing was the floating dance floor which was a very unique experience for a conference, did make walking around the venue a lot more interesting than a normal floor.

Slightly weird venue aside, the conference truly was excellent and the community and organisers almost scarily friendly, I will definiately try to come back next year.

Righty-oh so that is my quick roundup of the two conferences I've been at this month, I'll try and blog more reguarly, I am working on a few posts I hope to have finished up soon and will post them when I get them done but I do own Battleborn and haven't had any chance to play it while traveling so that will probably take priority.

GDC 2016 - Adventure, Mystery, Intrigue, Games!

So I told myself I was going to write a blog post at least once a month and I left it pretty late this month, but here we go, time for a GDC post-mortem.

Last week I went to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. I have wanted to go to GDC for many years but have never managed to quite scrape up the funds. This year was no different and I only got to go due to the kindness of others, but still I got to go! Woo!

I have to turbo-thank the GDAA for giving me a scholarship which purchased the all access pass to the conference, I literally could not have gone without this and I will be eternally thankful!

If you are involved in game development and are an Australian, you want to know the GDAA, they do great work and are pretty much the only voice trying to make game development in Australia more viable.

Thanks!

To GDC!

For those of you who read my blog but don't know what GDC is (I assume there is one of you...), GDC is the Game Developers Conference held annually in San Francisco. It is the largest and most eclectic conference for game developers because it encompasses every stage and role of game development from design, to writing, to programming, to art, to audio, to marketing, and everything else I have missed. GDC also intermingles AAA devs and indies, the person sitting next to you at lunch could be working on a game worth hundreds of millions of dollars, or something they are cooking up alone in their spare time.

This mix of roles leads to what is easily the most enthusasitc bunch of people at a large conference I have ever met. Everyone at GDC was looking forward to making games and being a part of the games industry. The reason for this enthusiasm is, I think, due to the mix of people you meet. As you roam around GDC you will run into people who work in a totally different fields, and they will happily discuss with you their latest song they are composing or the character design they just finished up. Even if you hate your job and the part you play in the giant game making machine, being exposed to new yet familiar information and topics helps keep you enthused for the end result. The general atmosphpere of GDC bodes well for both the future of the games industry and the games it will produce.

This isn't to say that at every other large conference I attend all the attendees are morose dullards who sit around discussing nihilism waiting for the day to end while hiding from the light, but no other conference anywhere near the size of GDC is so damn enthusiastic.

Another curiosity I noticed at GDC from other large conferences I have been to was when it came to question time at the end of talks. The questions asked were always on-topic and well thought out, there were no "I don't have a question, just a comment" or questions where someone was asking just to make themselves look good to the audience. This came as a pleasant surprise to me, as I have to come to associate question time at large conferences with the moment arseholes decide to make themselves known. Now this might be just because the talks I went to happened to be mostly arsehole free but it could also be for whatever reason GDC has a lower percentage of arseholes than other large conferences.

I have two competing theories as to why the arsehole ratio is so low at GDC. The first is related to the Dunning-Kruger effect, and that because game development is pretty damn brutal, requiring insane levels of cooperation and technical expertise (especially in the AAA industry but also true in the indie scene) people rapidly get over the "I AM A GENIUS" stage and rapidly into the "I know nothing" stage and so aren't as willing to make themselves look arrogant in front of a crowd of people.

The second theory has to do with game development's differences from other technical fields. Because game development needs people from so many different fields it is going to rapidly fill up with people of various skill sets and ideas about how games should be made. This blend of people and ideas is very likely going to either force arseholes to either adapt and lose a bit of arseholery or leave the industry. Either way it means the arsehole to not arsehole ratio is rather low in comparison to other large technical conferences I have been a part of (especially programming language conferences).

Another interesting side-effect of all this low arsehole ratio is that everyone I spoke to at GDC assumed I knew what I was doing (despite my business card literally saying otherwise...) and I assumed that they knew what they were doing. The low arseholery meant that you could have a discussion between a luminary of the field and a new developer and everyone involved was taken seriously.

This is something that other conferences I go to NEEDS to work on and I am not sure how to improve this yet, but I feel that GDC with its seeing luminaries as just another dev as a good starting point; hero worship is probably dangerous to a community in the long run.

Sessions and the lure of the Vault

Ok so enough about the people, what about the talks? GDC is interesting in that it is currently the only conference I attend where I am not either an organiser or a speaker, it was also my first time going so I wanted to go to as many talks as possible (something which I doubt will change should I manage to go again). I also knew from previous conferences that trying to go to everything will burn me out super fast, so I did generally pace myself.

Something that I really like about GDC, and other conference also do this, is that by buying an all access pass you also get access to the GDC vault, which is an online collection of this and past years talks. This had an interesting impact on what I went to see, when there was more than one talk I wanted to see on at the same time I tended to prioritise the one which I felt would be better live. As such I went to talks which were audio talks (giant speakers trump headphones any day), workshops (gotta get that human touch), and story sessions (personal impact).

In general the talks were stupidly high quality, every session I went to was well rehearsed, on time, and confidently presented. In the past I'd heard that GDC has a very rigorous review process and it seems to have paid off.

My favourite sessions were the Diablo post-mortem which went delved into the creation of Diablo including showing us the original design doc and had a guilty developer paying for his copy of Diablo he pirated years ago. The Lara Croft Go post-mortem was also brilliant, breaking down the process of distilling an action-adventure game into a turn based mobile app without losing the bit that made the game a Lara Croft game. Although this is only my first year I know already that I am going to go to as many post-mortems as I can in the future should I get to go back.

The session on the audio and music of Star Wars Battlefront was also another favourite, the amount of work that went into making the game audio and new music sound star-warsey was staggering. The game also won a whole bunch of audio awards at GDC, which it totally deserves, the game sounds bloody amazing.

There was a rather brutal but entertaining session on song composition where composers could submit songs to be judged by game audio pros. It was basically if Australian Idol was good, but wow were the judges brutal at times.

On the first two days I went to the game design workshop, which while it took up the first two days of the conference was totally worth it. It covered game design through discussion, paper prototyping, idea distillation, team work, mini-games, and optional micro-sessions. Losing two days was an acceptable trade off. The workshop was not only scarily informative and useful to help you think about game design but because it is all done in teams it is a great way to meet people outside of the lunch time and pre-talk queues. I think it was telling that I met six people who had done the workshop multiple times. If you ever go to GDC, even if you are not interested in game design, do the workshop!

Finally the awards, including the game audio network guild, ceremonies were surprisingly fun. Even with Her Story basically crushing all competition it was weirdly enjoyable to figure out what category Her Story was going to win next. The audio awards were a little quieter and more niche than the main awards, but also great and worth attending. The audio people are arguably the happiest of everyone at GDC, not sure why but it seemed that way. Also Battlefront won a tonne of awards and I really like the sound of that game so... yeah, I was happy about that.

Awards night

A nice little feature about GDC was that you get scanned as you enter each session, this is then used to immediately email you asking for feedback when the session ends. This resulted in me offering up feedback a lot snappier than I do at most conferences.

Party, party, party

Ah parties, what would a giant conference be without a slew of parties? I think every night I had invites for at least 3 parties. Of course not being a crazy almond I would only go to one per night.

Easily the best party was the Australian party, which I got access to by virtue of being Australian... it was not only full of people that I have actual chances of meeting again outside of GDC but it was in a great place and had a huge bar tab. Also they gave out cool portable batteries as loot. Easily the best loot I have gotten at a conference, cheers Film Victoria!

I am such a great photographer!

I didn't end up going to any of the mega-parties, I really don't see the point behind being in a giant sweaty, hotbox with music too loud to let you think and with too many people to possibly hold a conversation. Give me a few people to chat with any day.

Now it wouldn't be a GDC post-mortem without talking about the Microsoft party. Poor MS, one day I am sure you will get it right... So in case you don't know Microsoft through a party and had go-go dancers. The same Microsoft that earlier that day held a women in gaming event. I am pretty sure that I don't need to say anything about this that hasn't already been said by better writers than I, but for fucks sake MS, don't do this!

Thankfully all the parties I went to didn't have this problem, and as far as I can tell only the Microsoft party did, so yay!

The blob

I was travelling with rather a large number of people, there were eight of us roaming in a giant blob, this had some advantage and some disadvantages.

The big advantage is that it was really easy to vegetate with people you knew if you didn't want to socialise, you never had to worry about travelling alone, or having to make a decision about where to go for lunch. There was also always someone who you could split an uber with.

The big disadvantage is that a giant roaming blob is kinda scary looking from the outside, when all of us were together pretty much no-one we didn't already know was willing to join the group for a chat. To me a very large part of any conference is socialising, so this was certainly not ideal and something I'll have to work on if I ever come back.

Also with 8 of us, splitting an uber meant two cars minimum...

The meh of SF

Ah San Francisco... I don't really like SF much for myriad reasons, but I generally find the city to be a large sprawling, dirty, and very expensive mess. Heaps of the people in SF are vacuous start-up idiots who are annoying and there is a giant homeless problem everyone seems content to just ignore.

With all that said, SF was a lot nicer this time around, it rained a fair amount which I rather enjoy and it washed away the nigh-constant smell of urine and kept the annoying tech-bro's in their startup bunkers away from me. I suppose it isn't really fair to judge the entire city because of the annoying people in it, but SF does have lots of issues and for whatever reason everyone who lives there doesn't seem to want to fix it or even talk about it.

The city does have some really nice bars and restaurants. The coffee isn't too bad, but certainly no Yellow Bernard and once you get over the weirdness that is the city itself it does have a rather lot of charm. While I had been before I did a few of the more touristy things this time around and they were pretty good. The highlight had to be riding the cable car through the city while it was pelting down with rain, to me it felt kinda what Mad Max would be like if it was in the tropics and not a desert.

Toodles

Right, so I think that is everything I can think of about GDC and the trip around it. If you have any interest in game development whatsoever it is an amazing conference and well worth attending. Thanks again to the GDAA for buying me the ticket, you are all the greatest.

I will definitely be trying to come back next year, maybe I should work on a game to help fund the trip...

PhDs are tricky little buggers

So about a fortnight ago I submitted my PhD thesis for assessment, assuming all goes well it should be marked in a few months and if I didn't screw up terribly I should be graduating mid-year. This would make me Dr Tim, a strange concept. I can then fully stop thinking about it and move on to other thoughts, but for now I have to talk a little bit about some of the quirks I encountered while working on it.

This entire post could be summarised as 'despite people telling me it would be like this, I never expected it to be like this' which probably says more about me than the concept of a PhD but I noticed pretty much every other PhD student approach it in a similar manner.

The Writing

I have written lots before, I have written tech books, articles, papers, documentation etc etc etc so I wasn't really worried about the volume of writing I would have to do as I have (or thought I had) done all this before.

I was wrong.

Writing a PhD is very different from writing anything else I have done before, and the reason is because it is something new. Any time I have written something it has always had a structure and information provided elsewhere by someone or something else to help guide it as you write it. A PhD is by its very purpose a new piece of information. You as the author have to create the information you will use, you have to understand and interpret the information you generate, and you have to be the one to weave it together into something that makes sense.

The only guidance you have is past literature and even that you have to play around with and make it into something new to help tell your story.
This was all told to you when you start, but for whatever reason (arrogance in my case) everyone seems to ignore this and dive straight into the writing bog.

The Story

A PhD isn't just a dump of information, you don't just write down what you did and tah-dah you get given the doctorate (I wish they did though). You need to weave all of this into a story, you need to have a buildup and logical progression, the story needs to link backwards into what has been done and forwards into what you are doing.
Eventually you reach the end of the thesis and the reader should feel like you are closing the door you opened way back at the start.

This again was told to me in advance but I didn't really get this until near the end of the whole thing. I was at a stage where I had what I considered a content-complete thesis, essentially all the pieces were there. Reading through this revealed it was a piece of crap, there was no story, no weaving, no flow. It was bloody difficult to read and I spent months moving the different blocks around until I had something that made sense.

The Fraility of Your Squishy Brain

This is pretty much the only one that wasn't told to me in advance but one of the trickiest bits about the PhD was keeping it all in my head at once. When nearing the end and spending all time in writeup you are (or bloody well should be!) the most knowledgeable person in the entire world about your topic. There isn't really anyone you can turn to to ask specific questions because they just don't know the topic like you do. I tried this a few times before giving up simply because explaining the weird minutiae to them got tedious for everyone.

So essentially you need to keep everything to do with your research in your head, you need to remember the literature so you can argue what you are doing is valid and worthwhile and you need to remember your work and how it connects the gaps in the body of human knowledge. You also need to keep the flow in your mind so you don't repeat yourself or explain concepts well before or after they are needed.
I found that tools designed to help with this, generally things like Evernote or combination note and bibliogaphy mangers, were way too slow. At the start they were helpful but near the end switching between them and the document itself required too much context switching. I basically just left little notes and todos littering the document itself for things I couldn't remember.
I don't know if anyone else experienced these sort of issues around their work, but now I really question if any of these notes and memory tools are worth the effort required to use them. Switching back and forth takes too damn long.

The End?

So that is essentially all I wanted to talk about, the weird issues I had when working on my PhD.
Now that it is submitted and I've written this post I can safely stop thinking about it until the assessors come back.
Pass or fail, once the thing is marked, I will write up another post about how I used software dev tools to make working on the thing easier because I am pretty damn certain it did.

Tim goes to TasJam - He likes jam.

Does anyone else find the term jam kinda weird..?

Our valiant organisers. Photo by @parisba

Our valiant organisers. Photo by @parisba

So last weekend I attended the inaugural TasJam game hackathon. I normally consider myself part of the Tasmanian game developers general group but up until this year it hasn't really been anything but a few people who nod at each other when they meet up in the street.

Thankfully this is all starting to change and TasJam was a big part of it. I was pretty confident that TasJam was going to be me, Secret Lab, Giant Margarita, and maybe Kritz. When I got there I was pleasantly surprised to see a whole bunch of people I didn't know or only barely knew. I am glad that the little Tasmanian game group is growing and huge kudos to Jason and Ducky for arranging TasJam to help it continue to grow.

Let the games begin

TasJam was your fairly standard game hackathon, you show up, set up a laptop and make something a bit silly but lot's of fun. We were given a theme of Voices, with a secondary theme of Access.

I joined up with Matt and decided we should make something a bit silly. We are both programmers and were pretty confident we could smash something pretty cool in Unity but we felt like doing something a bit different. We both had the idea we wanted to make a choose your own adventure game.

After a fair amount of debate we settled on a murder mystery but with a twist, first you get to be both the detective and the suspects, and second everyone was going to be a butler so we could make a butler did it joke. Neither of us are writers and we knew what we were doing was a bit gutsy but we thought we'd be able to get plenty done.

Tied up in string

So we pretty quickly decided to use Twine because it seemed to be the go to tool for text adventures. Specifically we used Twine 2.0 because it is the new kid on the block, it looked pretty, so we gave it a shot.

That was when we ran into our first problem, we planned on using git to let us work independently of each other and then merge the changes in. Twine 2.0 does some very weird things, the save file it creates appears to be randomly changed every time you open the file. This makes merging impossible. In the end we had to use separate files and then manually merge them together. Even this was made trickier by Twine not letting you copy and paste individual passages from one story to another.

Our "finished" story in Twine

Our "finished" story in Twine

Ok so we had our little system ready to go and we started writing, the very first thing we learnt is that writing is really hard. We both knew we weren't writers, and we both didn't arrogantly assume every other skill in game development is easy like some programmers, but we totally overestimated how much we could write.

We chose eight characters, Butler, Priest, Femme Fatale, Duchess, Great White Hunter, Professor, Maid, and Doctor. We assumed we'd be able to get 4-6 of those done, we got 2...

I always knew writing was a specific skill, but I have even more respect for it now, still I hope the two characters we finished came out alright.

Finally we had a very clever idea to use a large matrix of possibilities to make the story dynamic, this is where we ran into more Twine issues, Twine 2.0 has terrible documentation. Matt and I are programmers so we are used to terrible documentation and how to get around it but I can't see writers digging into forums to find the answer to their problems. If Twine 2 ever wants to be more they have to fix their documentation.

This was where we also ran into another interesting side effect of Twine, it doesn't handle dynamic linking and stories very well. If your story is just straight forward, Option A, Option B, or Option C, Twine is a great choice, but if you want to dynamically build up the story it gets messy really quickly. As programmers we got frustrated by what were essentially nothing more than loading and retrieving data from arrays.

Which leads into arrays, in Twine they are called arrays, but then don't let you use the standard $varName[index] format to store/retrieve data for fear it will confuse people who aren't programmers. Which is fair enough, but then why call them arrays? List makes far more sense.

With all that said, Twine was a lot of fun, and totally worth everyone having a go at. Assuming they fix the documentation and iron out some of the oddity, it'll be an excellent tool.

Fellow Jamlords

Anyway, enough complaining about Twine, there were heaps of people at TasJam all doing really cool stuff. If you care to take a look, all the submissions are available at itch.io

I was particularly impressed with felius and John Dalton, a team of kids, made a side scrolling game about a music powered machine that saves the world.

There was also another bizarre entry from Kritz that I think was about the danger of mobs, but I am really not sure, it looked cool though.

Secret Lab made some sort of crazy single stick shooter featuring gnome copters and wizard hats, not really sure it fits the theme, but it was fun.

There was also a whole bunch of other games being made but I didn't get a chance to play them.

Bring on the scones

So, that is my terrible and quick blog post about TasJam, I cannot wait for the next one. If for some reason you want to play our game, take a look at ButlerConf

Actually take a look at all the games people made.

Huge thanks to the judges and mentors Kamina, Lauren, and Katie for giving up their weekend and flying down from Melbourne to judge and mentor us puzzled devs.

See you at the next TasJam!

Jumanji - The greatest board game ever?

So it turns out that Netflix has Jumanji on it, which of course makes the service even better than it already is, but it also offers up the opportunity to reexperience a movie I really loved as kid.

This blog post turned out to be a bit longer than I intended, I think I got carried away, but I think it is worth sticking with it and reading through the whole thing. If you want to skip below to the bottom I think the last section mostly makes sense on its own.

My brother was watching Jumanji on Friday when he pointed out that no one in the film actually dies, even if you ignore that the game resets time back to the 60s, no one dies even up until the reset point. Now as a child I don't remember noticing this and I doubt my brother did either when he saw it at the time of release but as an adult I now have the amazing ability to be overly critical, a feature I lacked as a child. So let's look at Jumanji as an overly critical and analytical adult.

Just looking at Jumanji with a bitter angle is hardly in the spirit of being overly analytic, an issue I have with many a critic - they just like to talk about the bad aspects plus I really like the film... So let's take a look at Jumanji, or rather let's look at the board game Jumanji inside of Jumanji itself. 

So I posit that Jumanji is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, game ever created. It creates and presents a brilliant survival adventurous gaming experience in a perfectly safe manner, all without having to go to an actual dangerous jungle.

To get started let's talk a little bit about what a game is so that we are all on the same page. A board game, like almost every game, is trying to create an enjoyable experience for you as the player, to make you feel powerful or wise or brave or any number of different feelings and moments - these are the experience that a game tries to capture and recreate when you play it. Many board games, like almost every computer game, is thematic. Thematic games create a tailored experience around a theme, so the game experience might be to make you feel wise or powerful but it does so by making you a brave warrior, or wizened old man, or a survivor of the apocalypse. These themes are often cliché but they do help a lot at creating an experience.

Jumanji is clearly a thematic game, you play a terrified and helpless person trapped in a wild and dangerous jungle that grows out of your very world. Jumanji wants to turn your dull everyday world into an adrenaline filled jungle survival adventure. You want to feel challenged and scared, but you ultimately want to overcome the challenges and be the one to defeat the dangerous jungle!

Ok so now we know what Jumanji wants let's talk about how the game actually plays, it is a remarkably simple game, a standard path based dice game such as Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly. The rules are:

  • Roll the two dice to see how far along the path you move
  • Rolling doubles gives you an additional turn (no idea if this has a limit)
  • At the end of your turn play moves to the next player
  • After each turn the game creates a special event that affects all players
  • First player to reach the centre and call out Jumanji wins

Now the first thing here is we don't know if the additional turn for rolling a double has a limit, like in monopoly, or can be done infinitely assuming you can keep rolling doubles so some errata here would be nice. The second thing (and the quite literal magic of the game) is in the special events the game creates at the end of each turn. A special event at the end of a turn is a very common pattern in games; Battlestar Galactica and Zombicide are two games that immediately spring to mind that have this pattern. Unlike BSG or Zombicide though which use cards to control the events Jumanji uses a large sphere in the board centre to show the special event and then changes the world to make the event come true. As the special events are what really makes the game, pretty much the rest of the blog is gonna be about them.

The games special events

So with the special events the obvious issue with them is it would make localising the game tricky, they rhyme and use cultural knowledge, so that is a lot of text that would have to be very carefully translated should the game ever hope to have a market outside of the anglosphere. The next issue is that the special events are really dangerous, or at least when I watched the show as a kid years ago they seem very dangerous. Even ignoring the fact that the game can control the world around it, it is the illusion of danger that is the real magic of Jumanji.

The events at first glance seem very dangerous, giant mosquitos, stampedes, monsoons, and psychopathic hunters aren't really high on my List Of Things To Get Killed By but as the game progresses in the film it is made clear that the danger is never real, even if the events themselves are. The game perfectly curates and controls the events to make sure that no one is in any real danger even with a crazy hunter or giant lion running around. Let's take a look at the dangers and events in the film as the game progresses:

So the first roll we get bats, now bats can be dangerous but aren't really a huge threat and all these bats do is chase Sarah away from the game and then do NOTHING ELSE FOR THE NEXT 26 YEARS! Real dangerous there Jumanji!

Second roll we have Alan getting sucked into the game, ok so at first glance this looks pretty bloody dangerous, he's a kid in a dangerous jungle. Maybe I'm wrong.

Third roll we have gigantic mosquitoes, now these put up a bit of a fight but soon leave to cause havoc elsewhere.

Forth roll is monkeys, which promptly leave the players alone to go annoy the general public, yep super scary!

Fifth roll gets Alan out of the jungle, presumably killed by all the horrific things that lurk within, oh no he is physically fine and well fed despite 26 years in a very hostile environment, ok... sure... We also get a large and dangerous lion who is soon locked inside a bedroom behind a door that he can easily bash down as we see him smash part way through it. But that is clearly too much effort, just give up lion and go to sleep.

By now I think you can start to see a pattern emerging, the game creates an illusion of danger with the events it creates but always manages to not quite hurt anyone. Let's keep going though and we'll see if this hold.

So Alan and the kids go outside to find the first player Sarah and we see our first case of actual damage, Mrs Thomas the realtor has been bitten by the mosquito and is in some sort of coma. 15 other people are also affected. Ok so maybe my theory is wrong but when we look closer the realtor seems ok other than the coma and far more importantly none of the players got hurt meaning they can keep playing.

Next roll we get killer bamboo with poison barbs that we don't get to see fire and a giant child eating pod, that shows itself in the room that has a cavalry sword right nearby to chop up the plant, nice spawn protection there Jumanji!

Ok next Alan rolls and out pops Van Pelt. I love Van Pelt because he is such a silly character, he is incredibly over the top with his outfit, his guns and his insults but he doesn't seem to be much of a hunter. His first shot is from a short distance and he misses, we'll forgive him though after all he did just get summoned into existence.

Second shot misses

Third shot misses

Forth shot misses

Fifth shot misses

Sixth shot misses

Seventh shot misses

He then proceeds to shoot at Carls car but doesn't hit him, Van Pelt then takes up aim and has the perfect shot at Alan only to be out of ammo, bugger.

Next roll gets us a Stampede that deals no damage to anyone but does mess up the house quite a bit.

We then have another instance of non-roll danger, Van Pelt has a near perfect shot of Alan when Carl is arresting him but he misses, again!

Next roll has Peter cheating and turned into a monkey thing, which while embarrassing doesn't appear to have caused any real harm.

We then see the monkeys start tearing apart an electronics store, but the owner runs out completely unharmed by the pesky little things.

Out of no where we have a stampeding elephant crush a car with Peter inside it, luckily he is perfectly unhurt.

Now inside a supermarket Van Pelt is firing madly at Sarah, three times he misses!

Van Pelt then manages the amazing, he shoots a tiny chain that was holding a bunch of tires in place, this traps three of the players, so the guy can shoot! He even tells Sarah, Peter, and Judy that he has been missing them simply because it was Alan he needs to kill. So I wonder why he's been missing him so much...

We then get a little more info on the mosquitoes, 98 people have been hospitalised some with violent seizures... ok this doesn't sound great but again no fatalities, it is almost like something is stopping anyone from dying.

Then Carl's car gets crushed by a vine, a vine that fails to grab him letting him escape unharmed.

Back to the rolls we get a monsoon with some crocodiles tossed in for good measure. Alan actually gets taken underwater by one and it starts its death roll, which it then stops and surfaces to let Alan get his breath back before starting this again. Silly crocodile!

After the water is flooded away Alan rolls quicksand which looks like it might kill him by smooshing his head under the floor boards...

Luckily Judy manages to freeze the quicksand with her next roll, which while trapping Alan and Sarah does stop them dying.

Oh no our next roll gets giant killer spiders, a mainstay of fantasy adventure! Killer giant spiders that don't take a bit out of Sarah's leg when they get the chance but instead all charge at Peter swinging an axe at them. The spiders ignore the helpless people stuck in wood to go after the only person with a weapon. Silly spiders!

Judy then gets hit by one of the poison barbs on the vines, Peter drops his axe to go to his sister freeing up the spiders to go for Alan and Sarah, things are looking bleak.

Luckily the next roll is an earthquake, freeing Sarah and Alan from the wood and making the spiders flee, geez that was awfully close.

Final roll

Ok so we are now at what will become the final roll of the game, Alan is so close he only needs a 3 to win!

Oh no!

Van Pelt shows up and is standing close enough that even he couldn't miss!

I actually really like this moment because Jonathan Hyde does a brilliant job of seeming both charming and menacing, and even has a dash of a father figure if he weren't about to shoot someone in the face...

So Van Pelt is standing there ready to shoot, first thing he does is get Alan to drop whatever it is in his hand, starts berating him before congratulating Alan on finally facing his fears while he lines up the perfect shot.

What was it that Alan dropped? Oh only the dice, which rolls enough to end the game, hooray everything is good and to make it better it was Van Pelt which helped to bring about the final roll!

Jumanji undoes everything it did, even rolling back time to the 60's, hooray happy ending!

Jumanji as a brilliant game

Ok so Jumanji is a movie about a game that is either impossible to exist or at the very likely years away from us being able to play it, so why do I think it is such a brilliant game?

Jumanji is a brilliant game because it truly captures the experience of being a survivalist adventurer in an unbelievably dangerous world, but it does this without putting people in danger. It is the ultimate thematic game, it creates the theme for real, there are psychopathic hunters, giant spiders and huge man eating vines, but you as the player are always safe.

The events the game chooses are carefully controlled and selected to make sure that they either prevent you getting hurt by an earlier event, such as the earthquake scaring away the spiders, or will not hurt you, such as Van Pelt missing his first seven shots at Alan or the stampede running past the players and not into them. You are never told this though, the game keeps you safe while making it seem dangerous. Playing Jumanji would be a brilliant adrenaline rush as you are constantly on the edge surrounded by danger yet perfectly safe, when it is doing its job properly you won't even realise it is doing anything at all.

Now you might be saying "woah Tim, people got hurt!" and yes they did, but no one died, the game kept everyone alive because it is a game, people play dangerous games all the time but no one wants to play a game that kills and Jumanji is no different. I would argue Jumanji has been shown to be safer than most contact sports, we saw 26 years of Jumanji and not a single person died because of the game.

I also am certain that Jumanji doesn't kill anyone even though it can reverse time simply because it is a game, as a player of the game you might be ok with the game being dangerous to you, even maybe causing a little bit of havoc outside of the game itself, but I don't think you as a player would be ok with a person dying. Even if Jumanji can undo the death at the end of the game, I cannot imagine how much damage that would do to the players, knowing they were temporarily responsible for people dying, let alone what it would do to you over repeated plays.

Jumanji also does something even more subtle than I think people realise, it ramped up the danger when it knew the game was ending, two rolls shy of the end it poisoned Judy knowing that either Sarah, Alan, or Peter would get to roll and either end the game or it would be able to create an event to get her back - we've already seen it undo moves such as quicksand.

The final tricky thing Jumanji does is optimise the danger away from the players, people did get hurt, damage was dealt, but not to the players, it kept them safe so that they could keep playing the game to eventually finish it. This explains how Alan survived so long in the jungle without help or training. Jumanji has to keep them safe so that they can finish it.

I think I'll end this with one final little note, if the game was actually dangerous why do people not destroy it? I think deep down inside people play it and realise it is safe, why else let someone else be put in its way if not to enjoy the thrill Jumanji has to offer?

Jumanji is a great game because the experience it offers is brilliantly presented, while we cannot play games like Jumanji yet we can try as game developers to make sure the experience of our games are as clearly presented. Jumanji might be impossible, but it makes a nice goal to reach for.

OSCON 2015 - A Tale of Two Tags

OSCON 2015 is over, rest in peace Portland OSCON, long live Austin OSCON.

So this post is my poor attempt at explaining what it was like at OSCON this year for me. For a start, I really like OSCON, pretty much everything about it from the crowds, fellow speakers, the organisers, and even the food and venue is brilliant, so with that in mind let's dump OSCON from my mind into this blog.

Farewell Portland, Hello Austin

Now unless you were at OSCON you might not have noticed that OSCON is moving from Portland (easily my favourite city in the US) to Austin, which I have never visited. Now the general response I got from the crowd was somewhere along the lines of "how horrible" which seems a little weird to me. The general reasoning seemed to boil down to "remember how terrible it was last time OSCON moved?", "Texas is so far away", and "I hate Texas."

All of these seem pretty weak excuses to me, from everything I've heard, when OSCON was in San Jose it was properly terrible, but this does not mean that OSCON has to be in Portland to be good.

The distance argument is really frustrating, I had to travel for ~30 hours (including all time in the airports) to get to OSCON, someone from the Bay Area complaining about 3+ hour travel is pretty hollow and even a little insulting, harden up and sit in a plane, the rest of the world does, time for you to do so.

The hatred of Texas isn't one I can answer, my knowledge of Texas comes from the TV and the few people I know who have visited it, now they have said the state isn't as nice as Oregon and that Austin isn't as nice as Portland. I have no reason to doubt their views, but at the same time they have also said that Austin is a really nice place - so I will reserve judgement until/if I get to go to OSCON next year.

Either way, OSCON is different every year and next year it will be different again and like almost anything that happens at OSCON, r0ml says it better than I ever could:

Every year I hear "#OSCON has changed, I should stop coming."  Every year I realize *I* have changed -- l still love OSCON. - r0ml

Excellent talks, Brilliant Speakers

As with any conference the entire point of attending is for the social interactions and the talks (well that and the expo, but that is a very different kettle of fish), and this year the talks I saw (when I wasn't busy freaking out working on my own slides) were amazing!

If you make time (and I highly suggest you do), you should check out:

As well as the talks I gave/co-presented:

Now probably the primary reason I go to conferences is for the interaction with the other attendees, and this year at OSCON the conversations were brilliant. Seriously you should come to OSCON just to speak to other people there, it is chock full of stupidly clever people!

OSCON vs Gamergate

Ah gamergate... so if you weren't at OSCON you probably didn't even hear but Gamergate got into into their head that OSCON were incorrect for accepting Randi Harper's talk offer. This section isn't going to be a discussion of Gamergate (henceforth referred to as Gobblegoat, because a Gamergate is a type of ant), ggautoblocker, or even free speech, this is a discussion of techniques.

So I don't really know how it all got started, but at some point during the conference Gobblegoat started flooding the oscon hashtag on twitter and mention spamming the twitter account and the  private twitter account of the person who runs it, Josh Simmons.

Now I don't know why it was decided that flooding a twitter hashtag and accounts was the correct way to make O'Reilly and OSCON change their minds about Randi Harper. The correct way is to buy a ticket and talk to the organisers and community there in person.

Now I know a ticket to OSCON is expensive, but there were numerous opportunities to get a free expo ticket which would have given you direct access to everyone who runs OSCON, including Tim O'Reilly and the conference chairs, and all the speakers (who don't really have much power) and attendees. A single person at the conference would have wielded infinitely more influence than every single tweet could have.

But even then, I understand not wanting to attend, but here is the problem, if Gobblegoat doesn't want to attend, then they are not part of the OSCON community and as such their words have no power, as someone at the conference, people were more confused and angry about the flooding. Because of the tweets people went and saw the talk by Randi Harper, people went and installed the blocking tool because they weren't blocking anyone in the community, they were blocking randoms.

People installed the tool and suddenly the noise flooding the conference was gone, how can you expect anything else? Oh as to the OSCON wifi filtering, I was in the speaker lounge when that was discovered and the OSCON staff were as confused as we all were, no one knew the wifi was being filtered.

So, ignoring the general ineffective nature of the spamming to the conference on the whole, the greatest reason the Gobblegoat spamming annoys me is because it was targeted to the wrong person. Josh Simmons did nothing that he wasn't asked to do, people asked for the blocker to be installed so people at the conference could more easily talk to the OSCON twitter account. Josh was just doing his job, and because of it he was attacked.

For everything we do, there is an internal discussion of "do my actions justify my goals" and in the case of targeting Josh, Gobblegoat either misunderstood, or misjudged the actions. As such all they did was harass someone doing his job and annoy a bunch of people at a conference who will now never join the Gobblegoat cause.

The End!

Ah, breathe out, right much more of a larger blog than I intended but it was fun writing it down. OSCON was a tonne of fun (metric not imperial) and I strongly recommend you come to OSCON Europe if you can, or Austin for OSCON 2016.

See you then, Tim.