How to defeat Internet giants

EverythingElsePosted by Eskil Mon, April 23, 2018 20:25:34
I have been thinking for years about my project Unravel on how to redesign some fundamentals of the Internet. To my delight, I now see a lot of other projects that in some way of another are trying to take on how the Internet works, and the large companies that have come to control it. There seems to be broad agreement that something should be done, but there is not so much agreement on what should be done. In my mind that is a good thing. The more things that are attempted the better the chances are that someone succeeds. Taking on some of the richest companies in the world wont however be easy, and will take a lot of work, so I thought I would share some advice to anyone else out there trying to change the way we use the Internet.

Don't depend on economy of scale.

I hear so many pitches that includes: "Once we get to scale we can...". You don't have scale. Facebook has scale, Google has scale, Amazon has scale. If scale will make your product great, then you have already lost because your competitors have it and you don't. Your platform needs to be useful even if only one person, or maybe two uses it. Instagram didn't start out as a social network, it was a filter app. It was useful even if you were the only one using it. Unravel is designed so that I will use it every day, even if no one else does.

Nobody cares if you are nice.

I see a lot of people attempting to create the "nice and friendly" version of existing services. Nobody will ever trust you to be nice. Google used to say "don't be evil", but they don't anymore. Not because they decided to be evil, but because there was no way of defining what is evil. Everyone thinks they are making the world a better place so that doesn't make you special. If you run a service of some scale, you are going to piss people off. There is content out there that some will ask you to censor, and some people will be outraged if you do censor. You cant win that one. All the big internet companies are trying to be nice, but they are failing because of the structures they have built.If your entire image is to always be nice, you are just going to make it worse for yourself, when inevitably people will start to question your actions. If possible have nothing to do with what people do with your platform. Delegate to your users if possible.

Monetization wont save the Internet.

Journalism isn't in a precarious state on the Internet, because there is no money to be made from content on the Internet. There is plenty of money, journalist just cant compete against click bait, cat videos, incendiary opinions and fake news. The Internet has become what it is because the incentives have asked people do do these things in order to make money. If your platforms pitch is that it will enable people to make money (or worse tokens,) it will attract the same people who ruined other platforms, and they will work just as hard to game yours. My advice would be to keep money out of it.

Use psychology, not rules.

Go to Wikipedia, look up a controversial political figure, and then go to the discussion page. Then go to twitter, and search for the same political figure. The former will be a mostly sober discussion about wording, attribution and fact checking. The later is likely to be a cesspool of insults and name calling. Any user who can sign up to twitter can sign up to be a Wikipedia contributor. So why are they so different? Could it be that on twitter the wildest punch line gets retweets and likes, where as anything on Wikipedia, that isn't balanced and references gets quietly deleted and rewritten? If you build a platform you create the incentives, and the right incentives will beat any ban hammer.

Find your competitors profit center, then build a future without it.

What ever you build, your competitor can build too. They most likely have more resources then you do. If you get traction they will copy you, unless that is, if you make something they would never do. Almost all massive corporations that has fallen, has fallen because they refused to embrace the technology that threaten their profit center. The music industry didn't embrace the Internet to protect the CD. Apple didn't take on Microsoft to protect their hardware sales in the 80s. Xerox didn't want to get in to computers to protect their photo copying business. SGI didn't want to compete against nVidia because they made too much money from their expensive workstations. If you want to slay a dragon, figure out hat they would never do, then do that.

Or as Keyser Soze put it: "To be in power, you didn't need guns or money or even numbers. You just needed the will to do what the other guy wouldn't."

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10 years of LOVE

LovePosted by Eskil Thu, December 01, 2016 08:09:07

Today is the 10th anniversary of the development of my game LOVE, and I think it's time to tell the story behind it.

I was working in academia and as much as I love science, I was getting tired of not doing something real. When you do research about something like video games or video game production, you never really know if the solutions you create would work in the real world. I was considering doing something completely different, but then i realized that it would be a waste to not use my skills, and in the end i really love making games. One late night, after coming home from a conference, I started a new visual studio project called project love. I worked on it all night. The name stuck and so did the game.

I was way in over my head, but I liked it. I decided to do everything myself, engine, networking, graphics, sound, physics, gameplay and procedural generation. It may be the most ambitious game project anyone has ever attempted, but none of that was really a problem. 3 years later I released an alpha.

I was very excited, but there were some problems. I fixed them, and then there were more problems. I kept fixing problems, but the game just didn't work. No players came, the server costs started to outstrip the income. The press loved my game, until they played it. It wasn't without merit, it just didn't come together. It turned out that I had vastly underestimated the design challenges in the creation of the kind of game I wanted to make. I was essentially trying to invent an entirely new class of games.

At the same time someone else, with my resources, in my city, made a very similar game: Minecraft. The difference was that his was a game people wanted to play. When you work on a big game there are many people you can blame if things go wrong. I had no one. The fact that someone else did it proved that it wasn't an impossible task. I was just not good enough.

I thought I wanted to make a commercial game, but at every turn where I had the opportunity to make it commercial or design it the way I wanted, I chose the latter. Many people have told me I needed to market the game better or make it easier to learn, but to me this was always secondary. To me, the game simply wasn't good, and until that was fixed, why bother trying to attract players? I spent almost 4 years trying to fix the game, and while improvements were made, it never worked.

All of this was really hard on me, and I got fairly depressed. After 7 years, I finally gave up. Love was just associated with too much pain. I had wasted 7 years and so much money. I didn't want to be a game developer any more. When I told people what I did, people would inevitably say "Oh, like Minecraft? I love that game".

At my lowest point I was at GDCE and Robin Hunicke (who BTW is awesome) gave a talk about the hugely successful game Journey that had just come out. She told the story of the horrible development of that game, about the infighting and the pain that it caused. I thought to myself: would I rather have had that experience, having a terrible time making something successful, or do what I did: have fun making something no one else cared about. That's when i realized that I had done the right thing. I followed my dream and I enjoyed the process, more than the result. Minecraft fucked me up, but not as much as the guy who made it. I got passed it, and I came out a better person. He is no longer my nemesis, I feel for him.

The last few years I kept a note file with ideas of how I would change Love, but I was scared to go back. I worked on the pivot model to be able to finally understand how games work. Last year, I decided to take a few weeks off to fiddle with Love. Just to see if I could apply any of my ideas and how it would feel, I was kind of surprised by how good it felt. And I was even more surprised by the changes I made. For very brief moments, Love started to sing.

I don't know what it means yet, and I don't dare think I have cracked it, but for the first time in many years I'm excited about it. So yes, I guess this is my announcement that I'm occasionally working on Love again (for followers of my Twitch stream it hasn't really been a secret). I was planning to make a video showing off what I'm working on, but I don't feel ready, so I wont. Maybe I will some day. I don't have a timeline or a release in mind. This time I know I'm doing it for me.

My next project is Unravel, and I can't even imagine it being successful, but I know that it will challenge and intrigue me for years to come. In the end I am a scientist and an artist. I tried to not be but I am. I will always rather boldly go where no one has gone before, than be one of the popular kids. I'm not convinced I will ever make something that anyone will ever will like and use, I will probably never be rich or famous. But you know what? I'm going to live a really good life.

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EverythingElsePosted by Eskil Thu, November 10, 2016 08:54:25

A few months ago I was sitting on the subway, and a homeless man sat down and started talking about how Muslims are ruining the country. He kept asking people to agree with him, just a little bit. No one would. No one. I felt something I haven’t felt before when confronted by racism. I felt sad for him. He wasn’t ideological. He was lonely, rejected and he was looking to belong. He wanted for once to feel like he was accepted among decent people, that for once there was someone else who was the trash, not him.

That’s is what racism often is. A way to belong, a cry for help. Its a cry we aren’t very good at answering as a society.

You don’t have to be homeless to feel like you have have been given a rough deal. Sometimes it feels like every group is under assault from someone. Some groups are recognized as having a rough deal, some not so much. Many feel like there is someone fighting for everyone, except for them.

The hypocrisy of women claiming to be for equality then going on to only bash men used to bother me. It doesn’t any more. Its not a literal expression of an ideology, its an expression of frustration. Its a way to find belonging. As a white man, I’m entirely OK, with women sometimes saying they hate men or black people saying all white people are racists, because I understand the frustration, and the need to vent. I understand that its a most human expression of how it sometimes feels, even if it isn’t entirely factually accurate.

In a time where the rich and famous have moved in to our social circles its easy to feel like you are not living up to impossible standards, of beauty, political correctness and influence, and when it is easier to find your own group of like minded, we finds comfort in our own tribes. The truth is that everybody hurts, that we are all vulnerable and insecure in different ways, and we are all looking to fit in somehow.

When we are defending our group, it is easy to slip in to a mind set where the only way we can win, is by having someone else loose. We feed the ones who hate us by hating them back. Our main motivation in politics is no longer about to enacting change, or to win over others, but to belong.

I wish we would talk more about principles and less about who they should apply to, but our society isn’t made up of philosophy majors, its made up of people who express how they feel. Feelings aren’t always logical or follow ideological rules. I’m a pacifist, but I can still feel like punching someone on a rare occation. It doesn’t make me a hypocrite to feel that way, it makes me a human.

If we really want to heal, we must try to acknowledge peoples feelings and that they are real and worth caring about, even if they manifest themselves in opinions that we may find unacceptable.

The stonewall riots was a momentous moment for the LGTB movement. It was an expression of rage that had build up over a long time, and for the people involved it was a tipping point that meant so much. What it wasn’t, was a good way to put forward their cause to the average New Yorker who looked out their window to see people throwing bottles beating police officers and breaking windows.

No, much of the great progress made by the LGTB movement has been made slowly on a very personal level. By showing that the nephew still is the same guy who likes to throw ball and go fishing and hiking, after he comes out as gay, we make progress. By engaging and being a good friend, neighbour and family member, by not being combative, that little girl who happens to like other girls, does more to change society then any gay pride parade ever could. Its painfully slow but it is working. When somebody says they “hate fags, but that that guy is ok”, that means that they are on a journey to something. They haven’t yet arrived, but there is an opening. Its easy to focus on the “hate” and the “fag” bit, but maybe we should focus more on seeing if we can find a second gay guy that could also become “OK”?

I think there is a lot we can learn from this. You don’t change the mind of a racist by calling them a racist.

I think it would be very good idea for Black lives matter, to give every police officer in the country a standing invitation to share a one on one breakfast on any day. Not to argue, not to tell them what they are doing wrong, but to start building a connection, to listen as much one shares ones own experiences. That is a very hard ask for people who feel betrayed by a system. Everybody wants to be accepted, but none of us are very good at accepting and listening to the people who’s opinions we don’t share. As a society we all need to work on that.

To me, making a human connection is more important then changing your mind. To be honest, I don’t care if we disagree, I’m not here to judge you, call you names no matter how different our opinions are. I want you to know that no matter how much we disagree, I will be here for you, I will listen to you and I will take how you feel seriously. If you need help in some way I will do my best to help you. I want you to belong, if with nobody else, then at least with me. And maybe, just maybe some day you will accept that all people of my kind aren’t as terrible as you once used to think.

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For those who care and matter

EverythingElsePosted by Eskil Wed, May 18, 2016 09:38:08
The world of technology and media has been cut in two camps, One camp is for those who care and matter and the other is for those who don't. This is a massive divide that allude almost everyone, and depending on what side you cater to, your actions should be be vastly different.

A simple way to differentiate the two is to compare Facebook and Twitter. Facebook has 1.5+ billion users and twitter has stopped growing at 300 million or so. You would think Facebook is the winner, but the truth is that they cater to two entirely different user groups. Despite that twitter only has 300 million users, they have the 300 million who matter and care. When a politician has a big announcement to make twitter is the obvious place to do it. Facebook might be big, but what ever happens on facebook doesn't matter. If you are a public person, your twitter handle is your online entry point. A Facebook user don't care too much about privacy, want a curated list of things presented to them and don't want to bother with settings. The twitter user on the other hand wants to control entirely what shows up in the stream and wont mind taking the time to configure it, they may want multiple accounts, and run something like tweetdeck. A Facebook user would never pay for it, but is happy to see adds, while a twitter user has an add blocker installed and would pay a fair bit for a Pro application with more settings and features. Neither twitter nor facebook get this so they are trying to be each other.

My mom will use her yahoo mail account until she dies, and frankly it works great. Yahoo isn't cool and never will be. She just doesn't care. Every change and new feature is just an annoyance. If Yahoo understood that, they could get rid of everything except server maintenance, and show my mom adds for the rest of her life and be the most profitable company ever. But again yahoo doesn't understand who they are for either.

Take the PC market, everyone says its dead in favour of mobile devices. Yes, a huge part of the population no longer need a PC, but then look around your room and recognize that almost everything manufactured in the last 20 years was made on a personal computer. The houses we live in, the cars we drive, the music we listen to, the films we watch, and yes, all of our mobile devices and their apps where made on a personal computer. So yes not everyone needs a PC but if you care enough to matter its a must have. Windows 8/10 is one huge proof that Microsoft don't understand who their customers are.

If you are a low level artist or performer Spotify and Youtube are great, but if you have an audience of 100.000 or more its terrible. For comparatively little money you can build your own distribution destination and take control of everything. Moving from Spotify and YouTube to your own app may loose you 90% of your audience, but if you are Taylor Swift and the revenue per user goes up 100 times, you will laugh all the way to the bank.

Tidal might be a shit app, but once your favorite artists new album will be exclusively available there you will gladly download it. No one will ever win the media store war because the artists who care and matter will always break out on their own. Luise C.K. has done it, so has Ellen and many more will follow.

People who care are willing to pay.

I think their is a huge opportunity to create squarespace-for-X companies that build the tech and infrastructure that people who care and matter needs to break out on their own. They want to collect E-mail addresses, have their own end user licence agreements, store and organize their data, use their own business models, and have the ability to put a notification on your home screen when new content is released. Once you become powerful you want control, and most ecosystems wont provide that, because they are designed to cater to and profit from people who don't care or matter. People tell me that if you are PC game company you have to be on Stream, but among the truly successfully like League of legends, Minecraft, Heartstone or World of Warcraft none of them are on steam.

My current project, Unravel is all about catering to users who want to control their data and comunication, so no, I'm not out to kill Facebook, I just want to turn them in to Yahoo.

You may think this is elitist, to say that only some people care and matter, and yes, whether we like it or not it reflects the fact that not everyone is equally influential, and that not everybody cares about everything. What is wonderful in the digital realm is that anyone who can afford a phone to sign up for Facebook, has the option to instead buy a PC and sign up for Twitter.

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Ultimate Reality distortion field

EverythingElsePosted by Eskil Sun, March 29, 2015 10:50:18
Right now Virtual reality is all the rage, and I think it will be able to capture a significant audience, but it is just a step towards an even bigger technical breakthrough: Augmented reality.

For those not familiar with the term, augmented reality is watching the real world threw a display (preferably mounted in front of your eyes like a pair of glasses) where you can see the world but where the image can be augmented with computer graphics that to the the person wearing the device appears to be in real life.

Augmented reality has some great applications: You can get way points that appear to float on the street when you are navigating a city, you can get name tags floating over everyones heads at the cocktail party so you wont ever need to be embarrassed when you forget peoples names again. Augmented reality will find your keys, tell you how when the bus arrives, keep track of your kids, show you how much charge you have left in your electric car, and translate all text in to a language you can read. The act of picking up a cell phone to gain knowledge, will seem arcane. When you tell people about the amazing things augmented reality can do, you can see their eyes light up with excitement.

There is only on thing: Augmented reality scares the life out of me.

Imagine a cocktail party where everyone can see how unimportant you are using facial recognition. Imagine a world where advertisers can hide competing stores for you or maybe just suck the color out of them. Imagine a world where people just digitally retouched away homeless people from their reality. Imagine when the online shamers comments literally hangs above your head for everyone to read. Imagine a world that will erase all opinions and expressions you don't already agree with? Imagine a world where political money can buy a world the reinforces their world view? Imagine a world where a computer program decides if you are to be perceived as threat that needs to be dealt with using deadly force? Prejudice will take on an entirely new meaning with this technology.

These are all things that happen in our digital lives, and with augmented reality they will invade our physical lives. How you will be judged in the future may entirely and inescapably be bound to what other people have chosen to put in a database about you, a database you are very unlikely to have control over.

Will you dare to criticize the police for how they treat minorities if that online comment will be hanging over your head at the next traffic stop?

The societal implications of who controls how we perceive reality, are hard to over estimate. Without full control of our senses, can there even be free will?

Google glass is the first semi commercially available augmented reality product and they have gotten a lot of flack on privacy grounds, but that's only the beginning. Google may just as well start using the slogan:

Google glass, when you want to be sure you never accidentally talk to a Jew again.

To be fair Google has said that they will not allow facial recognition on google glass, but since that is the killer app of augmented reality, someone will do it, and when one product has it, all competitors have two options, follow or die.

Its easy to say that I am being paranoid and delusional, but the problem is that most of our worst fears when it comes to social media has already happened. Our private lives gets traded as commodity, the security services have full access to all our information, and the social networks wash away any dissenting views from our vision in order to "improve our experinece". If there is a great commercial incentives for corporations to invade our privacy, the commercial incentive for controlling how we perceive the world would be even greater. If you think a company like Facebook who owns OculusVR wont release a augmented reality product that would nett them billions, because of any moral implications, then you are probably the one being delusional.

I think we can fix Social media by at least providing alternatives (I'm working on it), but what makes augmented reality such a scary thing, is that unlike social media it will be inescapable. If you don't want to be a member of Facebook you don't have to (I'm not), if you don't want to carry a networked surveillance device like a phone you don't have to. But with augmented reality you will still be a victim of the technology if everyone around you sees you through the distorted lens of augmented reality. What does it matter that you are not wearing the device, if the person denying you a seat at the restaurant, a job, entry to the club, a rental car, or an apartment is doing so because of augmented reality.

You can also ask, how optional technology really is. You may miss a party or some birthdays if you are not on Facebook, but most high paying jobs today are entirely dependent on using a smart phone. I would pay good money for a phone with a hardware switch that turns off all sensors, but right now that option doesn't exist. With the vast potential use of augmented reality its even questionable if we will have the option of not using it if we want to succeed in life. The problem is how inescapably useful this techhology is. The salesman who can spot the big fish on the street will just win over the one who cant.

For convenience we have given up our privacy, are we now about to give up our reality?

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A series of interesting decisions

EverythingElsePosted by Eskil Sat, March 21, 2015 03:58:20
While testing the micro design of my new RTS game EXO I'm currently designing the macro game, and I have been considering a number of different design concepts.

To begin with, since I am making a strategy game, it may make sense to define "strategy". Its easy to think that just because you move around troops from a top down prospective you are dealing with strategy, but in my definition strategy is not combat, it is setting something up that gives you an advantage later. This definition creates two core differentiators when designing a strategic element, the first being pacing. There needs to be enough time to take a strategic decision and then some time before it pays off. The second observation is that Strategy doesn't decide the outcome, it mealy tilts the odds, while action is the final decider.

Judging by this definition EXO is in its current state almost entirely is an action game and not a strategy game. This is why I'm considering how to add a new layer of strategy to the game, and in this article I will outline some of my intellectual work on the subject.

The athlete and the coach.

What is the most accessible sport, running or a card game with a 1000 different cards? Well most people can run, so in a sense running is a game that almost everyone can do. Its a simple and elegant game. A card game with a 1000 cards is hard to learn and will take a lot of time to get in to. On the other hand, if you start training to become a runner, your running wont improve fast, and your training will also provide diminishing returns as you get better. No matter how much you train you are very unlikely to ever be good enough to compete in the Olympics because very few people has the DNA required to do so. The card game on the other hand wont be limited in such a way. If you learn a single card every day then 3 years later you will have mastered the game.

Knowledge is easier to gain then skill. This is why MOBASs with hundreds of Heroes and equal numbers of items don't feel as intimidating as one may think. While playing Quake is easy to pick up, it still seams insurmountable to most people. Creating knowledge complexity is therefor a good thing, because it allows anyone to claim ownership of the game by gaining knowledge about it.

When a sports team does poorly the question of replacing the coach inevitably gets raised long before anyone talks about booting out the players. Why is this? Its because the Coach has knowledge not skill, and everybody things they have or at least can have knowledge too. It is clear to most of us that we will never be able to kick, run or throw like a professional athlete, so when they fail we tend to be forgiving, but we all think we can do the job of the coach since it is purely intellectual. If a coach has to decide what player switch out, its a decision any of us can make, so when the coaches gets it wrong its easy to label them incompetent, no matter how many factors they considered internally.

The coach is the spectators proxy, we all imagine ourselves being the coach when we watch a game, because they make the same decisions as we do in our heads. A game like 100 meter dash is very hard to have opinions about because its all just about athleticism. Our only advice to the participants would be "Run really fast!". As soon as we move up to longer distance running we can start having opinions about strategy of when save your strength and when to go for it. If you are designing a game for spectators, it makes sense to create a large space for audience participation by making the type of decisions made by a coach a large portion of the game.

A turn based game, forgoes the "athlete" entirely, and is therefor a much more comfortable and less stressful experience. But it also removes the ability to in a dramatic manor beat the odds, by executing a perfect play. Just as there is value in a game allowing for a player to carefully set up a trap, there is a value in allowing a player to think on their feet and improvise themselves out of a tricky situation. This is the balance between the coach and the athlete.

Possibility space.

One of the core things that you are looking for as a designer of any kind of game, is to create as many possible outcomes with as few rules as possible. Chess being the obvious example of a game that does this brilliantly. You can teach the rules of chess in a few minutes, but the possibility space of those rules can occupy a lifetime. Learning the game in chess is not about knowing what the peaces can do, but to see the possibilities afforded by what they can do. This makes the game both easy to get in to and hard to master. Ideally you want the spectator to instantly see the genius in the masters moves.

The way that i prefer to create a large possibility space is create many interlocking systems. If you have a game with 10 weapons, you have 10 choices, but if you have 5 weapon's and 5 armour sets, you have 25 combinations to chose from. Rather then increasing the length of the array of options you increase the number of dimensions of options. This also makes the game easier to learn. Even though you have 25 combinations of armour and weapons the player still only have to learn 5 weapons and 5 sets of armour.


How do one dividing the game in to segments of action and strategy? Strategy by its nature must be made over a longer time period, and should not immediately pay off. If you instantly get feedback from a strategic decision and the instantly can change your decision in reaction to the feedback then the decision ceases to be strategic. (This delay also often cause another design problem since it often makes the cause and effect less obvious)

Many strategy games divide their games in to early, mid and late game and gate abilities in such a way that it makes sense to wait to first tech up and then later attack. Early defence is deliberately stronger then early attacking units to slow down the pace of the game so that strategic decisions can be made. I kind of dislike this structure because it forces the game to play out in a specific order, I also don't like that many strategy game tuns in to 20 minutes of building, 30 seconds or fighting, the end.

Some games like MOBAS allow you to make important strategic decisions before the game starts (The pick and ban) and while this creates a lot of strategy it limits the possibility space, since players can change these decisions later in the game. The ideal game should allow you take multiple corrective decisions over the course of a match. MOBAs also control pacing using towers and other structures that are overpowered until the players has taken considerable time to level up. I find this a bit too rigid for my tastes.

Starcraft on the other hand is famous for its rushes, and Strctaft also allows you to make tech switches at any point, but it still limits you to a single race in game (Yes i know that Zerg can build Terran and Protoss units too). Early in in EXOs development i considered having multiple races in the game, but i now see that it is an ineffective way to create a large possibility space as choosing your race limits the combinations of units you can use. I find that its a missed opportunity that the most important strategic decision you make is a decision you make only once, as most players stick with one race for all matches.

These are games where multiple matches are stringed together so that players can redo their strategic choices between individual games. Counter-stirkes economy, or the limited supply found in Due process are excellent examples of this. I'm considering a tournament mode like this for EXO. Its understandable that its convenient to stop the action an let players think threw their strategies before the action restarts, yet it would still be better if decisions could be taken at any time.

To do this the games pace needs to fluctuate and at least partly be controlled by the players. Preferably a game should naturally have peeks of intense action and valleys of calm where the player can take the time to make more strategic decisions.

One of the core experiences of playing a strategic game is being able to think about it when you are not playing it. Your best strategies will be devised while in the shower, or in bed or while day dreaming at school or work. I think anyone who has ever been in to a strategic game has had the urge to play it just to try out some new strategy. The problem with this is that you don't want players to be able to always execute a strategy they have planed out before hand. The game becomes stale and not very exciting if players keep executing the same builds over and over again and again. If different builds counter each other too sharply, the player goes in to the game with one build, and fate decides if the opponent has chosen a build that is either strong or week against what the player is doing. The game turns in to Rock paper scissors and that is not a very interesting game. On the opposite spectrum you have card games where each game is played entirely differently depending on what cards are dealt. Ideally you want something in between where players can think up strategies outside the game, but where the game wont always be conducive to the execution of every strategy.


Balance is obviously very important for a competitive game, but i have started to think that rather then seeing balance as something good, maybe it is imbalance that is bad. Having a perfectly balanced game doesn't give you anything, its just that not having your game balanced will ruin it. Where as designers try to design games that have as many viable strategies as possible, players are trying to figure out a way to break the game by finding a single strategy so good it makes all other option worthless.

In a game like Starcraft with 3 different races almost all of the designers energy gets dedicated to keeping the game balanced. The designers cant just come up with a new unit idea and throw in in to they game, they carefully have to re-balance the entire game to take the new unit or feature in to account. To me it seems very inefficient to have a system where players constantly try to break the game and forcing the developer to constantly try to fix it. Therefor I think its important to build in to the game some sort of self balancing core mechanic that lets the designers be more creative.

A typical example of a self balancing system is where you divide a cake by having one person divide the cake and the other choosing one of the two peaces. MOBAs that employ a pick and ban system remove the spikes of over powered units, but does little to promote under powered units. A market based system where prices for less used items drop while the popular stuff rises would be even better.

I think its important to try to make player centric balance rather then opponent based balance. In Starcraft the Stim is an important upgrade for Marines in order to be able to counter speed Banelings. Stim makes the the marines able to go toe to toe with the Banelings, and is therefore balanced against Zerg, but having Stim is not at all balanced against not having it. There is no question IF the player should get stim, only how soon he or she should get it. If Stim was expensive enough or negated some other possible upgrade, the choice to upgrade Stim would be much more interesting.

I prefer strategic tech decisions that are different or temporary rather then just better. Lets consider a game with 3 different sets of armor. A traditional way to design it is to have armour level 1, armour level 2 and then finally armour level 3. The problem with this is that there are no interesting decisions for the player to make. The story in the game is already set. A more interesting way to design it, would be to have one anti fire armor set, one anti poisoning armor and a magic set or armour that makes you invulnerable for 10 seconds once a minute. Now the player has some interesting decisions to make and it makes sense to switch back and forth between the different armour sets many times as the game progresses.

Where I am.

Right now I'm considering a system where the map has a bunch of resource nodes, that are all "Plugged" so that the resources inside are inaccessible. The players can set a number of units to pop the cap of the resource. This requires some units to be present for a time. Once the node is opened, it starts giving the holder resources. The opening of the node gets announced to the other player, and by capturing the node once it is opened an opponent can steal the resource. Since the resource only flows for a short period, it creates a temporary focus point of the game. Once the resource is tapped out the players will move on to harvest another node or attack.

My current idea is to have three or four different resource types, and have each upgrade require one or two of the resource types. By making the resource type provided by the resource node unknown until the player has "popped the cap", I force the players to adapt their strategy to the resources dealt to them. I think this could be a good middle ground where builds can be pre-planed depending on different resource combinations, but where the player never can be sure what a specific game will bring in terms of access to the tech tree. I'm considering have the price of different tech options dynamically fluctuate in price depending on their popularity.

I want to thank Chris Thursten, Mahmud Din and Richard Lemarchand for their input.

  • Comments(6)//

Im about to make myself look stupid.

EverythingElsePosted by Eskil Sat, October 26, 2013 04:45:34
Lately I have been thinking about encryption (haven’t we all?) and as an exercise I have written my own encryption algorithm that I’m going to describe in this article. Of course i know rolling your own is a bad idea, but that doesn't mean its not fun.

I base it on the idea that i want to use the simplicity of a one time pad, but to have a considerably shorter key. If we have a small key we should be able to procedurally generate an infinitely long key from the initial key seed. Note: at this point anyone who knows anything about encryption can see an obvious weakness here: the procedural algorithm will produce a pattern that can be found and used to break the key. True, but that is a mathematical way of thinking about it: a specific algorithm yields a specific pattern. But what if the algorithm isn’t specific? What if the key describes the algorithm? If the key is data that can be used as an algorithm to produce data, we can create a cycle where the algorithm is self modifying and therefor wont create a pattern.

One way of thinking about it is to imagine the encryption algorithm as a virtual machine that produces a one time pad, and new instructions for the virtual machine. All we really need to do is to ensure that the virtual machine never gets stuck in a loop where it produces an output that makes it repeat its previous operations over and over.

That’s pretty much the basic idea, and once you start to think about it you realize that you don’t need a full virtual machine, you can do something much simpler that has similar characteristics.

pos_a = key[0];
pos_b = key[1];
pos_c = key[2];

for(i = 0; i < length; i++)
old_a = pos_a;
pos_a = key[pos_b] % key_size;
pos_b = (pos_a + 1 + key[pos_c] % (key_size - 1)) % key_size;
pos_c = (pos_a + 1 + key[old_a] % (key_size - 1)) % key_size;
decrypted[i] = encrypted[i] ^ key[pos_a] ^ key[pos_b];
key[pos_c] = (key[pos_c] << 31) | (key[pos_c] >> 1);
key[pos_a] ^= key[pos_c] ^ i ^ decrypted[i];

Lets go over this code and start by first analyzing the key line here:

decrypted[i] = encrypted[i] ^ key[pos_a] ^ key[pos_b];

This is the encryption using a simple XOR. XOR in it self is unbreakable because any input can yeld any output with the right key value. However If we re-use the same XOR key more then once it becomes possible to guess the key. The assumption of any encryption algorithm must always be to make the message unbreakable even if the breaker has a part of the message in plain text. So the first thing we do is to XOR with 2 different parts of the key; key[pos_a] and key[pos_b]. The breaker now knows two numbers if XORed together will produce the XOR difference between the message. if we a working with a 32 bit implementation that means 4 billion combinations. That’s a lot, but its still a clue. So the next thing we do is to destroy that clue:

key[pos_c] = (key[pos_c] << 31) | (key[pos_c] >> 1);
key[pos_a] ^= key[pos_c] ^ i ^ decrypted[i];

Here we take a third portion of the key, key[pos_c], that the adversary still haven got a clue about and use it to destroy one of the two XOR factors. To this we add in the decrypted message and a counter, that will add a poison pill and prevent the algorithm to ever get stuck in a pattern. By adding the decrypted message we also add the same entropy as the message it self has to the possible combinations. To make sure we have good entropy we also shift the key one step, so that we aren’t constantly XORing the same bits. Then finally we get to this:

old_a = pos_a;
pos_a = key[pos_b] % key_size;
pos_b = (pos_a + 1 + key[pos_c] % (key_size - 1)) % key_size;
pos_c = (pos_a + 1 + key[old_a] % (key_size - 1)) % key_size;

Here we simply use the key to recursively select the 3 sections of our key we will use in our above algorithm. Since none of these position values are exposed, they obfuscate how the algorithm work as they will just modify how the algorithm selects its key values, they wont actually be used in the math relating to the message. Since the keys at pos_a and pos_c will be XORed to destroy the key, they cant be the same, and since the key at pos_a and pos_b are used to decrypt the message, they cant be the same. The core idea here is that the adversary can crack the key, but not how the key was generated as that process is fenced of from the encryption process.

I would love to see if anyone can break this. If you want to try here are a few assumptions you can make: The key is only used once and is random, but assume that you have access to both the encrypted and a significant part of the plain text message (The encryption should hold up even if an attacker can accurately guess significant parts of the plain text). I’m very curious as to how the key size and amount of plain text data is given can impact the security of the encryption.

This is one of thous times I wish i was very rich so that i could offer up a big cash price, but maybe i can owe you beer if you break it?


The lines:

pos_a = key[0];
pos_b = key[1];
pos_c = key[2];

should obviously be:

pos_a = key[0] % key_size;
pos_b = key[1] % key_size;
pos_c = key[2] % key_size;

See? I already look stupid!

  • Comments(11)//

The future is not futuristic.

EverythingElsePosted by Eskil Thu, March 07, 2013 07:19:11
Have you ever wondered why we don't have flying cars by now?

The answer is that we do. We just don't call them flying cars. We call them helicopters. Are you disappointed yet? Disappointed perhaps that our mode of air transportation doesn't break at least one laws of physics? So why don't we all have helicopters by now then? Because helicopters aren't very good for most people. They are harder to control, more dangerous, require more space, and most of the energy they consume isn't used to get you where you want to go, but to keep you from crashing down in to a ball of fire. If you think the maintenance bill for your car is steep, be glad we don't all have flying cars.

If you google "futuristic interfaces" the fist thing that strikes you is that the future is incredibly blue, and very transparent. Graphics technology will also take a giant leap backwards and resort to drawing most things in wireframe.

Whats is cool in a science fiction is not the same as what will take off in the future. The transparent computer monitors you see in films are there because it lets film makers get a good shot of the hero using a computer rather then there being a pent up demand from computer users to be able to keep an eye on the wall while reading E-mails.

If voice commands where so much better then buttons, then why are text messages more popular then voice calls? Voice recognition is unlikely to ever be better then a human, so if we choose not to use voice when we communicate with a human why would we chose to do so with a machine? Bendable displays are really cool, but some how I have never had the urge to bend any of my displays (I have quite a few) so I think Ill skip pre-ordering one. We think we want to be Tom Cruse in minority report, but two month later when we are on sick leave for twisting our arms out of their sockets, we may think differently about the ergonomics of that interface.

Whenever you buy a gadget, you don't know if you are going to use it. You buy it because you think its going to be great to use, but often they end up collecting dust like some home gym bought January first. Lost of people bought Wii and Kinects but how many people ended up using them every week a year later? How you end up using something is different from what you thought when you bought it. Most of the time you need to discover how you like to use something.

Right now I really want a Asus TaiChi, but not because its a Laptop that can turn in to a tablet like Asus tells me, but because its a laptop i can use to easily show things without connecting to a projector or making everyone huddling around my small screen. To me a thin laptop is something you bring along, and when you bring a laptop its usually to show something. I dont care about the touch screen, tablet mode or Windows 8, because I gave away my last tablet, I would plug in a mouse and install Windows 7. The Lenovo Yoga intel sent me I have found to be great standing on its side like a dinner menu on a table so you can read long articles while eating. This great way of using the device the marketing completely omits.

For someone technically minded something like Twitter is incomprehensible. The innovation is a limitation! Twitter may be an indictment either that we have lost our attention span or that most people ramble on too much without saying anything meaningful, but no matter what, it has turned out to be useful.

So how do we build the future? We build something that is better and different, I don't care for new, show me better. For the future to win it has to be better then the past, until it is, its just fiction.

  • Comments(7)//
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