Tags: game



Star Wars memories

It’s been a starwarsy few days.

I made the most of my brief time in Seattle with a visit the Star Wars exhibit at the Pacific Science Center. I took many photos. Needless to say, I loved it, particularly the robot show’n’tell that intermixed fictional droids like C3PO with automata from our own timeline like Kismet. The premise of the exhibition was to essentially treat Star Wars as a work of design fiction.

From Seattle, Jessica and I took the train down to Portland. No, it didn’t go under the ocean like the Eurostar, and having WiFi on board a train wasn’t quite as thrilling as having WiFi on a plane, but it was still a lovely journey through some beautiful scenery. Do not pass Go. Do not get groped by the TSA.

Portland turns out to be delightful, just as reports suggested. There are food carts a-plenty. There’s a ma-HOO-sive book shop. There’s excellent coffee. And then there’s the beer. From Wikipedia:

With 46 microbrew outlets, Portland has more breweries and brewpubs per capita than any other city in the United States.

After consuming a few beers in the company of Portland’s finest geeks, we relocated to a true Portland institution: Ground Kontrol. It’s an arcade. But it’s a bar. But it’s an arcade! But it’s a bar!

Amongst the many, many machines packed into the place was . Just seeing it brought back a Proustian rush of memories. I had to play it. I remembered a not-so-secret tactic that results in a nice big bonus…

When you get to the trench level on the Death Star, don’t fire; instead dodge and weave to avoid the incoming fire. After about thirty seconds, the music stops. You are now using the Force. If you fire just one single shot into the exhaust port at the end of the trench, you will be rewarded with many, many bonus points.

You’re welcome.

Collective action

When I added collectives to Huffduffer, I wanted to keep the new feature fairly discrete. I knew I would have to add an add/remove device to profiles but I also wanted that device to be unobtrusive. That’s why I settled on using a small +/- button.

The action of adding someone to, or removing someone from a collective was a clear candidate for Hijax. Once I had the adding and removing working without JavaScript, I went back and sprinkled in some Ajax pixie-dust to do the adding and removing asynchronously without refreshing the whole page.

That was the easy part. The challenge lies in providing some meaningful and reassuring feedback to the user that the action has been carried out. There are quite a few familiar devices for doing this; the yellow fade technique is probably the most common. Personally, I like the Humanized Messages as devised by Aza Raskin and ported to jQuery by Michael Heilemann.

I knew that, depending on the page, the user could be carrying out multiple additions or removals. Whatever feedback mechanism I provided, it shouldn’t get in the way of the user carrying out another addition or removal. That’s when I thought of a feedback mechanism from a different discipline: video games.

Super Mario Bros. Frustration Speed Run in 3:07

Quite a few arcade games provide a discrete but clear feedback mechanism when points are scored. When the player successfully “catches” a prize, not only does the overall score in the corner of the screen update, but the amount scored appears in situ, floating briefly upwards. It doesn’t get in the way of immediately grabbing another prize but it does provide a nice tangible bit of feedback (the player usually gets some audio feedback too, which would be nice to do on the web if it weren’t to likely to get very annoying very quickly).

It wasn’t too tricky to imitate this behaviour with jQuery.

Collective action

This game-inspired feedback mechanism feels surprisingly familiar to me. Sign up or log in to Huffduffer to try it for yourself.


Here’s an interview with the makers of the game Geometry Wars, a game I find utterly fascinating for the way its very simple rule base quickly results in complex hallucinatory visions of beauty that are simultaneously mesmerising and baffling to watch.

After reading the interview, I moved on to the next tab I had open in my browser courtesy of Tom’s always excellent links. This was a post by Simon Wistow describing the iPhone version of the game rRootage. There I came across the word 弾幕 or meaning :

…a sub-genre of shoot ‘em up video games in which the entire screen is often almost completely filled with enemy bullets.

Next time I’m trying to describe Geometry Wars I think I’ll just say It’s kind of danmaku.


Andy has become the gaming world’s equivalent of uncovering the Tutankhamun’s tomb of a hard drive from Infocom containing details of the never-released sequel to The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy game. In his post, he picks out the salient points from the Lost in La Mancha-like story. In the comments, much hand-wringing ensues about what is and isn’t journalism (answer: who cares?).

I missed the Hitchhiker’s game when I was growing up. I cut my teeth on 8-bit computers; first a and then an . While I didn’t have the chance to play Douglas Adams’ meisterwerk, there were plenty of other text-only adventure games that sucked me in. I recall some quality stuff coming from the studio.

I remember learning BASIC specifically so that I could try create my own adventure games complete with mapped-out locations and a simple verb/noun parser. Adventure games seemed like the natural extension to the but far more open to exploration (even if that openness was just a cleverly-crafted illusion). Hypertext—a term used these days almost exclusively to refer to Web-based documents—seems an entirely appropriate way to describe this kind of interactive fiction.

Later this year, I and my fellow adventure game geeks will be able to wallow in nostalgia when the documentary Get Lamp is released. The film will feature interviews with some of the Infocom movers and shakers featured in Andy’s archeological treasure trove.

Beautiful hackery

While I had Matthew in my clutches, I made him show me around the API for They Work For You. Who knew that so much could fun be derived from data about MPs?

First off, there’s Matthew’s game of MP Top Trumps, ‘though he had to call it MP Fab Farts to avoid getting a cease and desist letter.

Then there’s a text adventure built on the API. This is so good! Enter your postcode and you find yourself playing the part of your parliamentary representative with zero experience points and one hundred hit points. You must work your way across the country, doing battle with rival MPs, as you make your way towards Sedgefield, the lair of Blair.

You can play a Web version but for some real old-school fun, try the telnet version. This reminded me of how much I used to love text adventures back in the days of 8-bit computers. I even remember trying to write my own in BASIC.

For what it’s worth, Celia Barlow, MP for Hove, has excellent pesteredness points. I made it all the way up to Sedgefield and defeated Tony Blair in battle. My prize was the source code of the adventure game in Python.

Ah, what larks!

There’s another project that Matthew works on that I find extremely useful. He has created accessible UK train timetables using the data from the National Rail site, a scrAPI if you will. This is where I go whenever I need to plan a train journey.

The latest feature is something that warms the cockles of my heart: beautiful, hackable URLs. If I want a list of trains going from Brighton to London, I can just type:


It handles spaces (or pluses or underscores) too:

http://traintimes.org.uk/brighton/london victoria

The URL can also be extended with a departure time:

http://traintimes.org.uk/brighton/london victoria/14:00

My address bar is my command line. This is the kind of design that makes URL fetishists like Tom very happy.