Free Public Transport

This is an email I sent out tonight to twenty people who work in the public sector (or are interested parties) in Northern Ireland:

Hi all,

Sorry for the anonymous email.

Thought this might be of interest considering the difficulties we have had getting route and timetable data out of Translink. Three years later and we’ve still not managed it.

Considering the support Translink gets and the ever-increasing fares (coupled with increasingly empty buses), it seems reasonable to assume that full buses are more valuable to the economy than the poor system we have in place. It would be possible to monetise the service through advertising (we have tried to communicate options for this to Translink with, as usual, no response).

The benefits of free public transport would mean, inevitably, reduced congestion on the roads across the province. If anyone can provide me with information on the subvention or the numbers of actual passengers and/or tickets sold in conjunction with passenger and bus numbers out on the network, I’d be very appreciative.

It’s a real vision of the future to make transport across the province free of charge. A bit like making sure we have free WiFi at every tourist location (especially areas of the country like Donaghadee which is badly served by mobile carriers).

Please pass this on to interested colleagues or by confidentially suggesting other folk who may be interested.

At the very least, it would make a great gesture to make every bus in and around Derry free for the whole of 2013.


A non-spoiler review of Avengers

The Avengers was always a weird combination.

  • Captain America – possibly the greatest soldier ever living, but ultimately still just a man in a funny suit
  • Hawkeye – possibly the world’s best archer, but ultimately still just a man in a funny suit
  • Black Widow – possibly the world’s greatest spy, but ultimately a woman in a funny suit
  • The Hulk – one of the foremost minds on radiation science that turns into an enormous, invulnerable, superstrong rage beast
  • Iron Man – one of the worlds smartest scientist/engineers wearing a suit of armour that grants flight, super strength, armour and energy blasts
  • Thor – an alien god, with super strength and a massive hammer that allows him to fly and call down lightning

Just an observation.

Anyway – its action packed, sentimental, hilariously funny and a damn good romp through Marvel’s history. Go see it.


While surfing around, I spotted this. It’s a spoof of the Left 4 Dead game mechanic re-told in terms of Super Mario Brothers. The irony being that it helps you realise that the episodic content of Left 4 Dead is just Mario, regurgitated for your pleasure (and with zombies).

which reminded me of…

Little Big Planet, 8-bit
Little Big Planet, 8-bit
Mirrors Edge, 8 bit
Mirrors Edge, 8 bit

An 8 bit re-make of Little Big Planet. This is kinda what Minecraft already delivers (in pixelated 3D). But making it 2D could be a lot of fun as well. The joy, in terms of the player enjoyment, is not only the variety of backgrounds and scenarios but also the customisation of characters which would involve the player a lot more (because it’s theoretically easier to place pixels than to build 3D models). Games like Cordy or Paper Monsters deliver some of this but without the 2D charm.

You feel like you’re watching a Mario clone. The backgrounds are different but the object of the game is the same. Jump this, solve that and do it quickly before the time runs out.

So, if you had to make a 2D version of the rather brilliant Mirror’s Edge on iPad game, it would look like this. Not surprisingly similar to the iPad version, really, and miles better, IMO, than the First Person Shooter version that I have on PS3. The touch controls, especially, make this game a little bit special.

You can see more of this on 8-Bit Demakes..

What I’d like to do, probably this summer, with some of our university and college students, is have an 8-bit remake Game Jam. A couple of teams, a few great programmers, a selection of students and industry people and let’s make some 8-bit de-makes of classic (or just popular) games.

Giving Permission for Player Engagement

Paul Wedgewood, Splash Damage, talking about Player Engagement:

“You’ll have seen this recently with games like Mass Effect 3 — we really think that the future of video game development and content marketing is going to rely on you being able to take a general idea for a universe and bring it to lots of different platforms so people can enjoy it in different ways and at different times,” he says.

“It’s frustrating to be obsessed with a fantastic free-to-play game on PC, and then not be able to do anything when you’re on your iPhone, or in a browser, and so on.”

This is why forums matter so much. My brother and I share an interest in video games though, in my opinion, he takes it to a level that I simply cannot. Joining clans, producing training videos…

There are lots of ways to make this easier for players to interact with your game (their friends, their clans, their loadouts) and the game world (the factions, the supply chains, the narrative) when not in front of the main console.

If your game is good, players will seek out ways to interact with it. The trick is to make it possible for them to easily create their own ways to interact. You can make it easy to record games, to produce screenshots, to post their own content within the game (like the Spray command in Valve games), the individual customisation of characters, creation of emergent virtual currencies (the ‘hats‘ thing). Let them love you.

Market Research

Tomorrow I’m off to the InvestNI Business Information Centre to do some research in mobile and games for the planned Games Development Cluster, BLOC54. The problem is that you end up looking at market data reports from companies like Forrester:

“The iPhone will not substantially alter the fundamental structure and challenges of the mobile industry,'” Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said in a report this month. (link)

or pay attention to the geniuses at Bloomberg:

The iPhone is nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks. In terms of its impact on the industry, the iPhone is less relevant. (link)

This puts the researcher at a bit of a crossroads. Interested parties (whether that’s InvestNI or private investors) will want to see some market research. They’ll want to see predictions on where the market is going, thoughts on what niche you’re going to play in and they’ll want these verified by companies like Forrester, Gartner, Deloitte. The dilemma is that when the numbers from these companies agree with what you want to present then they are visionaries. And when they disagree, they’re buffoons.

This isn’t really a problem because the smart money will know the story and it’s likely that while you’re making your pitch the panel will be unlikely to be reading reports from competing organisations to try and find you out. They’re going to give you the benefit of the doubt – at least during your 3 minute pitch.

The important thing is that, positive or negative, you need to do the research.

Another Life (persistence in games)

Peter Molyneux at Eurogamer:

What I love about cloud computing – and this hasn’t been explored yet – is that it allows for something that we as gamers haven’t had since the start of gaming, and that is persistence. We don’t have worlds or experiences that can continue and last for extended periods of time. We need to get rid of saved games.

I think game designers are afraid of persistence. You have to figure out the consequences of persistence or figure out a way to fudge it. You have to explain what is going to persist, why and what happens when the game is a year old.

Look at Call of Duty. Are the wars persistent? What about the damage to buildings? And what about the dead? Eventually the bodies will start to smell. How you add persistence to an FPS will change the game. Who’s making the ammunition? We’ve bombed all the factories?

Look at Warcraft. Eventually you’ll have chopped down every tree and mined every mine. Eventually the Undead will likely take over by amassing huge shambling armies. Adding persistence means thinking about the long term consequences.

And what happens in persistent worlds with clues and traps? Do you come across the body of previous players? Or do you brave the terrors of the dungeons only to find the burial chamber contains only the burned out campfire of the guys who looted it before you?

But I don’t think Mr Molyneux is being particularly prophetic. Persistence is the Next Big Thing in games. The challenge will be in not making it awful.

Some companies will deal with it in terms of expansions. More new places to go. Others will use resets. Once a year, everything gets ‘reset’ after a fashion. Others still will place their game in a sandbox. New resources will be supply drops.

What I’m interested in is a game where the structures are built by people playing Sim City or Minecraft. They’re destroyed by people playing Call of Duty and Warcraft. Supplies are generated by people playing FarmVille and shops are staffed by people playing Dead Hungry Diner. Bystanders in the street are Sims, crossed with GTA.

They don’t have to be playing the same game. But what’s to stop a Sim shopkeeper (in real life, a lawyer from Seattle) playing out an interaction with a grizzled CoD veteran (in real life, a 35 year old video store clerk from Miami). The CoD player is playing his favourite FPS and from his point of view is trying to track down the whereabouts of a possible insurgent in the area. The Sim player is interacting via SMS messages and emotes on his mobile phone. He’s dialled up the realism so later that day, he’s interacting with a GTA mugger (in real life, a 17 year old college student on her summer holidays) and escaping with his life but not his wallet.

Isn’t that what Second Life should have been?