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There’s a formula common to many of today’s popular “casual” games. If you’ve played a bunch of Facebook games recently, you’ll probably recognise it. It goes a bit like this:
You have a pool called something like “Stamina” or “Action Points”, which refills slowly in real-time. Once you’re out of Stamina, you have to wait for it to refill over minutes or hours. Stamina allows you to complete various actions, quests etc., each of which consume varying amounts of Stamina, and reward you with some combination of money and experience points. Money buys you equipment that lets you do better quests. XP gains you levels, which also let you do better quests. This process continues until…
I’ve played a few of these – the formula is very good at getting you hooked, getting you invested in the game. It feels like you’re losing a lot of work when you discover that it’s just a level treadmill with no real game, and decide to quit. Which is why, naturally, you can pay real money for in-game advancement. By paying the developer, you can avoid the tedious questing and levelling – except that what you’re circumventing is the game itself, so at best what you’re doing is paying real money to fool your friends into thinking that you sink more time into a game than you really do.
I swore off these games a year or so back, as every single example I’d tried was as I’ve described, a game devoid of gameplay. I may have ranted about this at length.
It would be remiss of me, then, to fail to point out that I am playing such a game again, in the form of DJ Rivals (Apple App Store, Android Market). Its difference to others I’ve tried is that it includes elements from other, more game-like things, which add to the experience immensely.
At worst, these “Stamina-based” games are a simple button-click to perform a quest; here there is a basic attempt at turn-based combat, where each attack requires you to play a 10 second clip of rhythm game. Better moves use more complex rhythms, and the hardest moves are on a level that Tap Tap Revenge would consider medium, and IIDX would consider easy. Not especially challenging then, but fun – orders of magnitude more fun than simply clicking a button.
PvP battles are implemented as poorly as in any of these games – they’re identical to PvE battles. But DJ Rivals also introduces a location-based element to play, where players compete to become “House DJ” (Mayor, in Foursquare terms) of real-life locations that are detected by the game’s use of your phone’s GPS. Although fighting over real-world bars and restaurants is fun, a high location-to-player ratio – and the ability to set your location manually – mean that it’s easy to become House DJ of places far from any other players and thus reap the rewards without any risk.
I should point out a couple of negatives, too. Levelling up unlocks more powerful attacks and equipment, but the power curve is not smooth and gradual. It suffers from the same issue as did Terranigma’s last boss – at a certain level it is all but impossible, but one level-up makes it trivially easy. At level 10 in DJ rivals I could do around 600 damage a turn to my enemies’ 800, and I had to return to a previous “Chapter” to find some lower-level enemies to beat. Once I hit level 11, I could immediately buy a move that did around 2000 damage, killing everything – including the next sub-boss – in a single hit.
Also annoying is that it doesn’t tell you that you can only set your character’s name after finishing Chapter 1 – I had to delve into the forums to figure that out.
But on the whole, DJ Rivals is a good and enjoyable game. The “freemium” model that all similar games thrive on is present, but so far I have felt no need to pay real money to speed up my progression, as that progression is itself fun.
I’ve no idea who originally thought that Beatmania and Foursquare was a good combination, but I’m thankful to them for demonstrating that “Stamina-based” games can actually be games and not just money-seeking level treadmills.
I lie unmoving on the floor of the bedroom, stretching my back into shape as I listen to the splattering of raindrops against the window. A cold north wind blows them on, a rare wind in these parts. So rare is this wind, and so sheltered is our flat from all other directions, that the sound of rain against glass seems alien for a moment.
Seven hours we spent on the patio today, eating and drinking and being merry, happy for our extra holiday and not giving a damn as to the reasons why. My feet ache, my back aches, and I’ve been through about half a bottle of Pimm’s since lunchtime.
It’s half past nine, but it feels like it could be midnight.
This morning, the world full of light and caffeine and promise, I had a thoughtful post in my head. It was about royalty, and what purpose they served, and it was about smiling couples and flags waved in the streets while NHS bad news is buried and Stoke’s Croft burns.
But this evening, the world is full of darkness and alcohol and rain beating against windows. I’m starting to feel detached again – unconcerned with human things like weddings and internets and eating and sleeping. Thoughts are difficult and half-formed; better save that thoughtful post for another day.
EDIT: Thanks Newsweek, for negating the need for my blog post with just four words: http://yfrog.com/gz7batfj
It is past midnight here, and a warm onshore breeze is just beginning to slacken. I stand barefoot between the blinking lights of the town and the endless beaches that sweep up the sea, whole again.
There’s sand in my shoes, sand in my bag and sand strewn across the carpeted floor, but it’s matched by the sand in my heart and soul that I can never leave behind.
Home is here, beneath the blazing sun, ankle deep in salty water. Home is here, amongst the lobster-red tourists and dripping ice creams. Home is here, where barbecues cloud the sky and stars reflect upwards from the open sea.
Home is here, between a glorious Spring and the beckoning arms of a long, hot summer.
A while ago, I blogged my indifference to the Alternative Vote system, and politics in general at that point, in a post entitled “Meh” to AV. My main objection was that AV would increase the likelihood of the country being governed by bland centrist coalitions. However, now hopefully somewhat more educated about the subject, I am now given to understand that AV would in fact reduce the likelihood of coalition governments – and given how well our current coalition is working out for all concerned, I suspect that a greater chance of outright majority governments may be a good thing for Britain.
Over and above this, the biggest advantage of AV in my opinion is that it removes the desire to vote tactically. Thus far in my adult life I have resolutely voted Lib Dem in my constituency, where they trail the Conservatives with about 30% of the vote compared to 40% – not exactly close, but not far off. As I find my inclinations swinging toward Labour (15%), the existing First Past the Post system means I now have a choice: support Labour by voting for them, or oppose the Tories by voting Lib Dem. (Not that that’s working too well at the moment.) The AV system gives me the ability to properly express my opinions: I’d like Labour first, the Lib Dems second, and the others not at all.
But in case none of that was convincing, I suggest you attempt the following procedure, which has thus far done me no harm in life:
Figure out what the opposite is
Whether it’s for fairer representation, for better allowing you to express your opinion, to Stick it to the Forehead Man, or just for the lulz – please join me in voting “Yes” to the Alternative Vote system on May 5th.
Not too many years ago, Easter fell early in the month of April. I spent it camping in a blizzard somewhere near Birmingham, packing in as many people as our tent would hold so that we wouldn’t freeze overnight. My choice to spend the daylight hours running around a frozen muddy field in a hakama was also, with hindsight, not the best of all possible choices.
Years have passed, and this time around, Easter falls late. The lilac trees are already in bloom, while cherry blossoms and dandelion seeds tumble in the wind.
Even at eight in the morning, the sun is high in the sky and the mist is boiling away. Blue skies overhead promise a beautiful day, hot and cloudless, just like dozens more to come.
It’s April, then it will be May. The holidays are here, the tourists are here to pack the beaches. Slowly but surely, Spring is becoming Summer once more.
Winfrith’s “Starlight” children’s nursery has always struggled to stay open despite a lack of demand for its services. After one of many closures, it opened again late last year – only to close again in February after one of its staff was arrested (though never charged). Now it is abandoned again, closed for the forseeable future, its licence revoked.
Since the police investigation, I’ve not seen anyone there – not even someone simply returning to clear up.
Never the prettiest of places, the former nursery is a squat grey portacabin locked away behind razor-wire and rusting iron gates. But its abandonment lends it an almost sinister edge. Children’s toys litter the ground outside, left there at the end of a day, not knowing that they might never be moved again.
In one corner of its surroundings, fading police tape cordons off an area between trees. Three bright plastic spades hang from the tape, yearning to be used by children that will never come.
It belongs to the crows, now, who sit atop the roof and the fences and caw loudly at passers-by. They understand, I think, that it is not a place for humans anymore.
Hearts sink as the display updates from showing wildly inaccurate times to showing Delayed, Delayed, Delayed from top to bottom. “Signalling fault at Bournemouth”, it says, and we know then that all hope is lost.
It is April now, and somewhere lilac trees and fields of dandelions are blooming. But here, fat drops of rain fall from steel-grey skies, and cranes tower high above the tunnel through which trains refuse to come.
I look up at the departure board again. My train has disappeared; perhaps it never existed. The next train is the 0604 to London Waterloo, some ghost in the machine of a train that has long since departed or never existed either.
Clanking in the distance suggests that someone may be trying to fix the signalling fault with a hammer.
My fellow commuters and I do not look hopeful.
Prime Minister David Cameron is set to make a speech on immigration today which, to the very vocal displeasure of Vince Cable and doubtless many Lib Dems, is designed to appeal to the core and right of the Conservative party. According to the BBC article:
Communities have been affected by incomers who are unable to speak English and unwilling to integrate, [Cameron] will argue.
“That has created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods. This has been the experience for many people in our country - and I believe it is untruthful and unfair not to speak about it and address it.”
Granted, I’m probably far from the average member of the public in my opinions, and certainly I’m far from core Tory material. But I see that disjointedness as more of a good thing than a bad one.
Many years ago, I lived for a while in the village of Easton, on Portland. It was blessed with both a Chinese restaurant and a Chinese take-away, as far as I am aware the only two on the island. When I was there, the restaurant was staffed with Chinese people (or at least those of Chinese descent) – whether they lived on the island or not, I have no idea. But the take-away? Well, I guess they ran out of Chinese people. It was staffed entirely by Brits. 96.8% of the population are of white ethnicity.
I come from, and have since returned to, Bournemouth. Just 30 miles away, it has a population more than 10 times that of the whole of Portland. During most of the year it is home to thousands of university students; in the summer it opens its doors to thousands more foreign language students and a never-ending influx of tourists. I live in an area with a high Brazilian population. Oriental and Middle-Eastern shops are everywhere.
It’s part of the world in a way that Easton is not.
By and large, immigrants naturally pick up enough English to get by – instead of imposing requirements on their proficiency with the language, how about we try to learn each others’ languages?
Instead of imposing some requirement to “integrate” with society (presumably that means reading the Daily Mail, drinking tea and moaning about the weather), why not celebrate each others’ cultures?
More to the point, why not stop pretending that there’s a single homogenous British society for people to integrate with in the first place? My comment about the Daily Mail was only partly in humour. How do you define such a nebulous concept?
I don’t read the Daily Mail, and I rarely drink tea. My instinctive reaction to the phrase “Oh dear, it’s come over all cloudy again, hasn’t it? Typical.” is an impotent rage as I realise that no matter how much of a travesty of conversation it is, in the eyes of the law, it’s still not cause enough to legitimately punch someone in the face.
Like most Brits though, I do love French food, German beer, Italian coffee, chow mein, pizza and chicken tikka masala.
If I’m trying to make a point here, it’s this:
Everyone else’s culture is just as good as ours
Everyone else’s language is just as good as ours
And by the way, everyone else’s food is better than ours.
Let’s stop clinging to an idea of British culture that we can’t even define, and pretending our way of life is under attack from Poles or Pakistanis. Let’s not be Easton.
There’s a whole world out there. Let’s live in it.
I returned to my parents’ house after my final year at university approximately an eternity ago* to discover that they had at last entered the Cretaceous and acquired a broadband internet connection. I was less than impressed with the limits imposed on this connection, though - it came with a measly 1GB monthly data limit, which of course for them was perfectly adequate. I don’t know how much they get through these days (and I’m willing to bet they don’t either), but I suspect their 1GB limit is still firmly in place.
Well, what do you know, I have a 1GB limit too, that this month I’m getting worryingly close to. Only mine is on my mobile phone. My WiFi is always on when I’m at home, leaving at most 70 hours a week at which I might be actually getting through that mobile data. 40 of which I spend at work, sitting in front of a computer. …With internet access. Extrapolating over the month, that implies that I use around 10MB an hour, just passively, not deliberately “surfing” the net.
It’s not by any means a fair comparison, but if those bytes were all printed out as single characters, my passive data consumption is roughly a War and Peace every two minutes.
And that, not to put too fine a point on it, is fucking insane.
I’m guessing that my parents’ passive data consumption is near zero – they both have smartphones but don’t use social networks or really download any apps, and their laptop stays in its bag upstairs until they bring it out to use it. Naturally, when they’re not using it, they turn their router off to save electricity. A laudable idea, to be sure, but therein lay my second problem with my parents’ internet connection.
“Why have it on when you’re not using the internet?” they asked.
“But what if my computer wants to use the internet?”
It’s not just the rate of technological progress that is extreme, it’s the inevitable way in which it transforms our lives. Back in the late seventies, the computers my parents used at university were giant things, all mainframes and time-sharing and punch cards. Consumer hard drives of 10MB were a thing of the eighties. And here was I, not thirty years later, coming back from university with the idea that I should be able to download that amount of data every hour, without asking for it, and mostly without even looking at it. With the idea that not only should I not fight for time on a single computer, but that my computer should be left to talk to others over the internet without me being involved.
I’m not saying my folks are stuck with a 70s idea of computing; far from it. But the extent to which our lives are data-saturated now compared to thirty years ago is monumental. And I wonder what, in thirty years’ time, our children will make of our archaic blogs, social networks and video streaming.
Yesterday’s announcement that the Arts and Humanities Research Council will, on pain of losing funding, devote a “significant” amount of time to studying the notion of “Big Society” is frankly shocking. If it is indeed true, it smacks of incredible egotism on the part of the government.
The government’s money is the people’s money – if we’re not going to leave the job of deciding what to research to the actual researchers, why should the government’s whims be involved? If there were a referendum on it now, what proportion of the tax-paying public would label the Big Society as a steaming pile of shite that we shouldn’t be throwing any more money at?
Conversely, how many of the government’s other sweeping changes – the programme of cuts (Warning: least impartial summary ever) that we are now subject to, for example – have been the subject of such hopefully-independent research?
A future UKIP government promises to ban global warming research, and apart from the climate change deniers, I’m confident the public would not support that particular aspect of governmental meddling in research. So why are we putting up with this?
(And on a related note, does anyone else think it’s a little odd to commission research on a policy after committing to it?)
tl,dr: Hands off mah science, government.