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Hypnos' Blog

Custodial Cleanup and Visits

Ahoy, pirates! New posting space!

First I'd like to thank web manager Terri and web programmer Sarah for setting up an in-house blog system and for setting up both the individual blogs for all oceanmasters who wanted them, and the feeds that allow all of them to be displayed in one long page of blogged textness.

Things churn along in the office with various bug fixes and changes to make Puzzle Pirates Adventures lighter and faster-loading. We had to bid farewell to beloved Nick Barkas (boo hoo! :() as he went back to the wilds of Sweden and graduate school, but not before partying it up in the Tonga Room. The Tonga Room is amazing. It has an impressive selection of fruity scupper-yer-barnacle-up drinks, seats set up on the deck of a ship, and an indoor pool with rain at 30 minute intervals. Also, a live band comes out on a boat(!) Much revelry and the sticking of paper umbrellas in Hypnos's hair was had.

We have also been shamelessly enjoying the fruits of the twisted mind of Jes Weigand including bacon ice cream (no, really. bacon ice cream!) and lime Cephalopod cake.

Notably, we were paid a visit by the Girl Game Company, a nonprofit outreach program for middle school girls in Watsonville, CA. They are an after school and summertime project that teaches young women to design and develop computer games, and they had done tours at Google and EA. The young ladies were all very web savvy, reminding me that mine was the last generation to grow up without internet access. Pictures of the group can be found on our Flickr page.

On the subject of visits, I also paid a weekend visit to Las Vegas last month and viewed the demolition site that was once the New Frontier, where the Las Vegas meet-up was held last year. It was sad. There's a very sharp line in that area of town between the old kitschy themed hotels and the giant resort luxury hotels, with their reflective glass windows and sharp angles. A lot of the old hotels and casinos are being torn down.

Lastly, Bunnywonder (and an accompanying cabinlad whose pirate name I did not catch) visited Three Rings! She promised pictures to the forum community, so watch that space.

New Release 06/18/08

Ahoy, all and sundry!

As you've no doubt been hearing, a new release is coming to all oceans, as posted by Bungleton (whose forum avatar still makes me snort every time that I see it) here.  Whee!

With this release comes hopefully the fatal crunch of these annoying bugs' exoskeletons:

  • Fixed monsters getting overly aggressive and double-ramming in Atlantis

Atlantis navers rejoice! As an oceanmaster, I get a fair number of complaints about problems with the monsters in Atlantis, from them spawning in unlikely and impossible areas to their movement tokens being unreasonably high.  Thankfully, with each patch we've put out to modify creature behavior in Atlantis, I've been seeing fewer and fewer.

  • Fixed treasure haul refusing to give out more chests after a gem was swapped next to a chest.

Finally! We'd been getting intermittent reports of chests not showing up in the duty reports and at first were looking into client/server timing issues.  Somewhat incidentally while Cephalopod was bug testing something else, he experienced the bug and, since he'd been testing something under rather unusual circumstances, managed to track down why it was happening.  Here's to more treasure!

  • Fixed a timing issue that would allow clients to walk on water.

Actually, I'm going to miss the 'Jesus' petitions and forum threads.

From the Release Notes:

  • Beta version of Puzzle Pirates Adventures available for intrepid pirates to explore.

While keeping in mind that this is just the beta and first set of beginning adventures, I really love the potential of Puzzle Pirates Adventures.  It still amazes me how the developers got the game to run in a browser, in an applet, and how slim they tried to keep download times for slower connections.  It's a complex carefully-timed back-and-forth with your computer only grabbing the code and graphics necessary when they need to be used.  *Because* the way it's set up is complex, there are also quite a few bugs to get working because people use a wide variety of systems with varying connection speeds.  Trying to wrap my head around making something work nearly the same across so many sets of circumstances makes my head pound. :)
  When the bugs are worked out, the possibilities of future adventures to take friends on, or player-designed storylines and puzzles is so exciting. Does anybody else remember The Secret Island of Dr. Quandary?

  • New "Puzzles" tab on the notice board to show pirates the path to puzzling greatness.

This actually grew out of a suggestion from our partners in Japan, GungHo. They felt that Puzzle Pirates could use a feeling of progression, and a place to look for what to do next.  It took a lot of artwork, but it looks fantastic.  I can't believe we didn't have one before.

  • New furniture: Wall map, ship's wheel and dart board. New paints and enamels: rose, mint, lavender, magenta and light green. New clothing: female sleeping hat. New permanent shoppe portrait backgrounds: Distillery by ickessler, Iron Monger by Nordenx and Shipwright by Albini.

Can't say anything new or witty, the items to buy in this release are gorgeous. I never have any money on my player account after releases. :(

  • Display icons on a pirate's page for the houses they own or are roommates in.

No more petitions from new players who've lost their shacks for the win!

  • Award mugs from chests in Atlantis.

I've heard folks saying this will kill the mugs business, but I hope this is not the case. Records show that very few mugs in general are purchased, and hopefully this will bump up their use, like bludgeons and swords were intended to do

That's it from me kids, go and patch!

Office Update

This week, I'd like to highlight pirate Toppyhopp of Sage's contribution to the Yohoho Tools application that our island designers and artists often use to create Puzzle Pirates scenes.  Stepping up to fill the lack of a Mac client, this mate created, updated, and hosted a Mac client of the toolkit himself that is listed in the Y!PPedia Yohoho tools article.  Hats off to you, Toppyhopp.

As Malachite starts receiving its first greenies and Puzzle Pirates deploys some new items in a release preceding some new bits and bobs coming to Ice shortly, I would like to take some time to update you on how the Three Rings office is coming along.

We had some spring birthday festivities for our office mates, and we've been doing a touch of redecorating! Office manager Natalie has gotten us a new sign for our door, a new rug, and fancied up our front room/reception area with new furniture and some more custom furniture from Because We Can.

Personally, I have long since run out of room on the letter wall and have now started plastering the hallways between office spaces with cool pictures and other missives that you've sent us.  Keep them coming! With time, I'd like to wallpaper all available space on this floor.  It'll help slow down unannounced intruders.  (You know who you are.)

Lastly but not less importantly, we have welcomed a new addition to the Puzzle Pirates (Cephalo)Pod.  Please give a warm welcome to Puzzle Pirates intern Micah Weaver, who is joining us for a stint from Rose-Hulman University.  He completes the triumvirate of of Mich-type names from Rose-Hulman, along with Arcturus (Michael Thomas) and Jack (Michael Bayne.)  I, for one, welcome our new identically named overlords.

Spinning Yarns

Our Captain Cleaver, Daniel James made Beckett Magazine's list of the 20 Most Influential People in MMOs.  Hooray!

The list is stocked with big names from the games industry, including Sanya Weathers of Dark Age of Camelot fame and mistress of GuildCafe, Rob Pardo from Blizzard, and Richard Garriott of NCSoft, to name a few.

When asked for comment, Cap'n Cleaver said,

"I am honoured to be recognised as one of the few influential MMO folks. It's of note that many of my fellows work inside major corporations creating very large and expensive MMORPGs. I'm pleased that Beckett's recognised a few of us who are working outside of the mainstream and moving the ball forward with our independent and quirky ways."

Also, he would like to know why he is not #1.

Not to be outdone, the entrants in A Sailor's Yarn contest made themselves Most Influential Pirates in Bowling Over Judges and Bystanders Alike with their textile entries.  If you have not seen the entries for this contest already, I give a screaming recommendation.  They are amazing.  I also noticed quite a few Viking vessels on the waves for this contest.  Something about the longship seems to inspire scenes of dramatic ocean struggles in all of us!  I'm inspired to put a Puzzle Pirates longship atop Hokusai's 'Great Wave', myself.

Inter-archipelago Route

Greetings, fair readers!

I return from my voyages to the island nations of Taiwan and Japan replete with stories and treasure.

As you've all no doubt heard by now, Three Rings has a partnership with GungHo Online Entertainment Inc. to distribute our beloved pirate game in the land of the rising sun.

Things won't be changing from routine, though. We'll still be developing all of the features of Y!PP in-house here at Three Rings, and translating them to our new Eastern audience.  If any of you fancy practicing your writing and reading skills of the Japanese language, this could be your chance!

Speaking of Japan, while I was over there, I noticed a lot of people's jobs seemed to consist of standing around.  Staff often outnumbered customers in grocery stores, and walked around welcoming everybody. Once, I saw a fellow whose entire duty seemed to be standing outside a dirt lot greeting people and telling them not to enter the large construction site behind him.

Japan's is a service economy, and my me, the Japanese are really good at it. I stopped by the store once and bought a custard. It cost around $2 U.S., and the young lady asked me about how long it would be before I got home. Based on my answer, she selected an appropriately sized ice pack to package the custard with, put it in a cardboard box that had a separate area for the cold pack (heaven forbid that the two touch while my custard was being kept cold), added a wrapped spoon, taped it shut with a pink flowered bit of tape, placed it in a bag, tied the bag handles in a bow, and handed it to me, bowing, and with the most cheerful, chirpy thank you I'd ever experienced.

All of this was very interesting to me, and not just because the custard was delicious. Online games, especially MMOs that are updated regularly with new content and features, are also a service industry.

Different companies have very different approaches, of course. Some will listen to suggestions and complaints more than others. I am curious to see how much good service affects a game's success, and if Japan gets into the online games business, I really want to see how they'll blow the whole service thing out of the water and raise the bar.

Mutual Interaction

As an oceanmaster, I deal with quite a few complaints every shift.  Aside from the valid swearing and theft complaints, I get a lot of complaints in which it's very obvious that the complainer just wants the complainee to be punished by a higher authority.

Reasons for complaints range from "she wuz meen" to "he did something and stopped when I threatened to complain" to "threating to report me for no reson."

We all live in very pacifistic societies.  I remember being told over and over in school to not respond to teasing or attempts to pick fights, but to ignore them and walk away.  While I can see the logic of this policy (if you come across two children fighting, you have to punish both of them. you cannot determine who started what or who said what on the kids' say-so.) it obviously doesn't address the human desire for vindication and action.  So quite logically, children tell authority figures and want those figures to do something that they can feel happy about.

That's not the lesson I want children or our players especially to learn.

The problem is of course that you cannot always control what happens to you.  Terrible things can happen to you, especially when you are a child and relatively helpless.  What you always have control of is how you react to a situation and what you do.  Somebody out to provoke you?  You have better things to do with your leisure time.  You can't control of somebody decides to be an jerk on the interwebs, but you can decide whether you're going to waste your game time shouting pixels and getting frustrated or use your game time to go do something fun.  (I plan to come up with a programmatic way to teach this to computer game players and get very wealthy while benefiting society.)

And hey, if arguing with people is your way of having fun in Puzzle Pirates, that's fine.  Don't spam the complaint queue expecting some higher authority to help you with that, though.  Honestly, the higher authority has bigger things to deal with, like that manager who took off with 200 items of black/gold/Atlantean clothing that didn't belong to him from the tailor rack.

Furthermore, there are game tools that take care of problems like these with unbelievable efficiency. Often are the times that I have wished for a /mute function in real life.  I have encountered persons on the bus so personally offensive that I wished for nothing more than a white-hot meteor to come raining down from the sky to incinerate these persons to nothing more than mineral powder from their bones, leaving no trace of organic material so that their accursed DNA was wiped clean from the face of this earth.  By fire. CLEANSING FIRE.

Love the mute command.  The mute command is your friend.  You know that question "What if there was a war and nobody showed up?"  What if there was an idiot in Puzzle Pirates and everybody on the server muted him?

Bliss.

Spring Sprang Sprong

Sharp readers spotted the news that Three Rings acquired new investors last month, but they didn't seem to notice the awesome Three Rings profile picture on the True Venture website. (You'll have to scroll down a bit, as companies are listed alphabetically.)

We're looking to expand the Three Rings team now, with a slew of job postings up on our website. Please pass them along to anybody interested!

The big news last week was naturally that Whirled went into open beta testing. Please join us in testing out some games, making things, and giving us feedback.  I've particularly found the bouncy toys that play beats and sounds so that you can compose and play with people in the same room fascinating.  Music is something  I would love to see integrated more with online games.

You folks who sign up for Whirled may be interested in the pirates whirled, a room designed like an island's dock scene where people can gather and chat.

The population rise due to some increased advertising continues, with all English speaking oceans, subscription and doubloon seeing a bump in the number of pirates online.  I look forward to having more exciting Puzzle Pirates news to report in the next few months.

Hills and Deserts

Happy Wednesday, good pirates.

Many of you may have noticed that we experienced a traffic bump this month. This has resulted in a bit of a population rise, with every English ocean seeing a rise in average online population.  If you can, get out there and run a pillage or two to welcome the newcomers!

We're not precisely sure where all of this traffic is coming from.  It may be some stepped-up advertising, or a lot of young people all over the world starting spring break.  Regardless, it's a welcome burst of noise.

This week, the question I'll be tackling this fun question from Cassis of Sage:

If (insert respondee HERE) were stuck on a deserted island and could pick one...but only one...of your co-workers to be stuck with you, who would you pick and why?

That's difficult.  For example, I've always found Cleaver one of the more interesting people I've ever met, and it would be fun to get a chance to pick his brains, but if it came down to it and I had to resort to er, picking his brains for nourishment, the Cap'n is a svelte fellow, and has more fighting experience than I do, so it would hardly be worth the energy.

Then there's Cephalopod. Nice fellow, aquatically inclined, and has long tentacles that we could use to bind together pieces of a raft to sail off on.  If it came down to cannibalism, I've always been fond of ika sushi.

I suppose if I chose Poseidon, if we ever wanted to get off the island, he could just tell the ocean to drop us off at the nearest landmass, but I think that's cheating.  Also, if I ate him, would I become god of the sea?  This bears investigation.

In the end, I would have to go with Hermes.  Not only does he have the winged slippers that would come in mighty handy, but he's so nice that he's obligingly brain himself with a tree branch if it came to lean times.  He's pretty strong so he'd definitely be able to hold up his end of the labor if we had to build shelter, and he's not too annoying.  Sometimes.

Perhaps a question that now arises is why I size up my co-workers in terms of their nutritional value first, rather than their personal merits.  I'm pretty sure that's why I wouldn't end up on anybody else's desert island list!

Spring into gear

Spring comes to San Francisco!

Recently the days have become warm and sunny, though the nights still bring in the signature fog and damp cold winds of the city.

The theme of springtime and growing things is not lost on us here at OOO.  As a response to an inquiry in the Cask of Blog forums, Domokun of Sage's "As Clio and Dio sail into the sunset, a new chapter of Puzzle Pirates begins. With the addition of two puzzles to production, a new round of Ocean Master hiring in progress and with a sprinkling of Forum posting from the Captain, is 2008 a turning point for Pirates, or merely part of a continuous and ongoing change?", here are a few updates:

Artist Sean Keeton joins the Three Rings staff!  You can see his work in Puzzle Pirates on some of the new portrait items, Atlantean furniture & trinkets, and the new fancy sink item in the latest release.

Speaking of releases, we just had one of those.  Most of the release's visible elements are in the form of artwork, but a lot of tinkering under the hood to adjust things like how bots work, how portraits are generated, and in general smoothing the process took place.  When a game has been worked on and had bits added to it and changed for 7 years, by multiple people, it needs a check-up and cleaning now and again.  Organic growth is interesting and has given us many strengths in Puzzle Pirates, but it is messy.  It was a good bit of spring cleaning.

The Puzzle Pirates client was not the only thing being cleaned out- our office manager Natalie took it upon herself to spiffy up the front room, which, while not steampunk'd out, now sports matching swanky furniture.  Our OM dolls and other lovely gifts are displayed right up near the front, so that all of our guests can turn green with envy and rage right before we meet them.

On the topic of players, you guys continue to rock the house by sharing stories like this, taking in stray kittens, sending in petitions about headless pirates that read

"People are starting to make fun of this poor pirate and charge money to see him. He is just trying to pillage.

Could you repair his wounds, please." and more.

Looking forward to hearing more from you as we chug into 2008.

Yours always,
Hypnos

GDC Expo Post More-tem: SerCas Wednesday

It was a crazy week.

I couldn't capture the feeling in a photo, but if you'll look at this picture of the morning meeting with about 350 volunteers in a room, you might get an idea of how large the conference associate program is.  Every year a veritable army of bright-shirted folks flow through the Moscone Center, checking badges, staffing talks and sessions, giving directions, and generally doing work that you might call "behind the scenes" except the shirts are so bright that we're not capable of blending behind anything.

The Puzzle Pirates flickr page is updated with pictures of the conference, including the show floor, conference associates lounge, and some pictures of Three Rings' own Captain Cleaver talking at various summits.  Videos will be uploaded onto the YouTube page and should be available later today.

I had the fortune to run into Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games again this year.  He remains a great conversationalist, well-mannered gentleman, and all-around nice guy.  Hermes introduced several fellow volunteers to Tribes, so we had fun chatting to him about that.

For this entry only, I'll be forgoing questions and focus on writing about the exposition floor I saw at the GDC this year, which had a lot of displays and ideas that interested me.  Hope you folks don't mind!

The expo theme fit very well with the keynote speaker this year, Ray Kurtzweil, who is well-known for speaking about our increasing ability to consciously change and "evolve" ourselves through technology.  With a number of Three Rings' staff having a fascination with the martial arts, which is all about consciously changing oneself through discipline and training, I found it fitting in more ways than one.

The thing that impressed me most this year when I wandered the various exposition booths was the popularity of what are referred to as "serious games".  The category names are rather misleading in my opinion, but "casual games" are what Puzzle Pirates and many of the mainstream computer and console games that we know would fall under- that is, games that are designed and played purely for entertainment.  "Serious games" are games that are meant to help with a "real life" purpose, such as using motion sensors to aid with exercise.

Using video games to aid things such as response time and training is certainly nothing new, but it seems to be coming more and more into the mainstream eye and into private consumer use.  For example, one of the more popular booths this year was NeuroSky, a headset that reads your brainwave frequencies and your pupil dilation and uses these responses to power the game.  Basically, the more you focus on an object, the more your game character can pick it up and move it about.  Think "the Force" from Star Wars.

This is basically a private version of a type of therapy called biofeedback, in which sensors read your brainwave patterns and help train you to control types of behaviors such as chronic pain or attention deficits.  By monitoring your brainwaves, the programs give you immediate feedback when your mind is "focused" or when your brainwaves are following the desired patterns, and over time you train your mind to operate in the desired fashion.  The problem with these therapies is that they are often not covered by insurance plans and are expensive.  I'm incredibly excited to see things like headsets being developed for private use with personal consoles or computers.

We have had a few very touching stories here at Three Rings about our game Puzzle Pirates helping distract ill players from chronic pain or discomfort.  While this was not our original aim in designing Puzzle Pirates, it's amazing to hear about the incidental benefit that this game brought to some folks, and it made me think about the potential of "casual" or "entertaining" games to positively affect people's lives outside of gameplay.

One morning, I spoke to a fellow female volunteer about games and our contrasting attitudes about exercise.  She has a hard time working out regularly because while she logically understands its benefits and necessity, she doesn't feel any progress or benefit immediately when exercising.  If anything, exercising makes her feel worse at first because she gets sore and tired.  It takes weeks before the benefits such as an improvement in her appearance and stamina make themselves known.

In contrast, I practice martial arts and exercise several times a week because if I don't, the drop in energy and spirits affect me immediately.  I feel less motivated at work, more frustrated by things, and fundamentally more dissatisfied with myself.  Sore muscles make me laugh.  In essence, I have immediate feedback built into my body, and she does not.

There's a gap here that games could fill, by making fitness and conditioning a game with immediate feedback built in to reward and motivate those people that do not naturally have the crazy endorphin release that exercise fanatics do.

(Tangentially, those of us living in urban areas have less physical space to move in than our rural counterparts, and I think games can work very well with adapted physical movements and exercise in a more restricted space.  Countries such as Japan and China have longer experience with population density than we do, and you can see it in the Japanese calisthenics and exercise programs that air on public television and in tai chi routines developed specifically to be performed in the 9 square foot space of standard Chinese apartments.  Is it any wonder that Japan produced the other hugely popular display of GDC this year, WiiFit?)

I really want to see more crossover and less of a distinction between "casual" and "serious" games.  We already know that game companies in the "casual" sector are great at making extremely fun games (even if their websites need more automatic volume control).  "Serious" games have great ideas but aren't nearly as experienced in making fun games that people enjoy playing.  The combination of the fun people experience when playing popular games combined with physical benefits like improved fitness, better alignment, regular physical therapy, better concentration, or controlling chronic pain?  It makes me want to jump out of my seat and run around, I get so excited thinking about it.

GD See

Hey there mates, Hypnos reporting in from the GDC this week.

Monday and Tuesday are all-day summits and tutorials, some of which Captain Cleaver took part in.  I managed to snap some pictures and upload them to our Flickr page and take a brief video of the Casual Games Summit. The Flickr and Youtube pages will be updated with more photographs and videos as I take them this week.

So far everything has gone very well.  Bia and Hermes switched sleep patterns from night shifters to getting up at dawn with little complaining and no noticeable side effects save the loud singing of Rush songs on the bus ride to the Moscone Center.

Finally, after hundreds of us stayed in the Moscone Center until nearly midnight stuffing the bags given out to convention attendees, I would be remiss if I didn't upload this video of that sight from the third floor escalator.

The GD Sea

Been getting ready for the Game Developers Conference this year again.  As is the standard, our Captain Cleaver will be doing a large number of speaking appointments and some of our oceanmasters will be working the conference as Conference Associates in disturbingly bright t-shirts.  I'm not looking forward to waking up at dawn each day for a week, but everything else about volunteering is terribly exciting.

This year, the conference will be even bigger than years previous, and we have expanded into the Moscone South hall, meaning that the conference now takes up all three of the Moscone conference buildings in downtown San Francisco.

While looking through the schedule of sessions and roundtables, one title that jumped out at me was a talk entitled Treat Me like a Lover, which is a lighthearted encouragement to game designers to think of prospective players as people they have to woo.  According to the little blurb summarizing the talk's material, "pretending the player is a prospective lover will improve your design."  (Apparently spam companies are really into this talk too, judging from the amount of John Thomas enlargement e-mail that I get at my puzzlepirates.com e-mail address.)

I mean this in the nicest possible way, but I really, really don't think of Puzzle Pirates players as prospective lovers.  I'm sure that they're more comfortable with me that way, too.

Allegorically of course, this talk makes sense in that you want the game you design to be responsive, approachable, and pleasantly surprising.  Still, the image of romance makes me think of monogamy, and one thing I do not think any game has any right to expect from most of its players is for them to never play any other games.

Raph Koster wrote an interesting blog post about this a few months ago, wondering why games aren't designed more like the "third place"- that is, a community gathering place outside of work and home.  Instead, most games seem to be designed to draw in customers and keep them there as long as possible with complicated hooks and quests.  Indeed, one might think of some games as shopping malls with entry fees, selling power ups and other game items at every turn for profit in addition to trying to keep the customer inside as long as possible.

Do U.S. game designers lack experience with a third space from which to draw inspiration?  Is Puzzle Pirates any different than the casino or mall experience, with its convoluted passages and array of colors and lights?  Can the third place be something we establish online with new social and "player created content" type games?

I'm confused, but I'm starting to wonder if I should go to this talk to see what it's about.

Crime and Banishment

(Subtitle- Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov was probably not well-tanned. Possibly blonde.)

This week's questions come from Sweetiepiepi of Midnight, who writes:

  I'm curious about what's involved work-wise in the disciplinary process.

  I'm also curious about some of the broader governing principles behind game design - is there something specific that OOO is trying to achieve with the economy, pillaging, etc.?

When oceanmasters are on duty, we use a support tool that queues up petitions and complaints in the order they were received on a web page.  (This is why we often do not see tells for a while, if at all, as depending on the nature of the petitions or complaints received, we may be working most of the time through a web page, rather than the game client.)

If a complaint comes in from somebody who is accused of using unacceptable language against another pirate (evading the swear filter, personal threats, obscenity) we read the chatlog appended automatically to the complaint.  If there is proof in the chat log of that language, we then check the account's history to see if this person has been suspended for that offense before.  The length of an account's suspension depends on past offenses, though particularly over-the-top awfulness may warrant a permanent ban regardless of account history.  Contrary to what people sometimes theorize, we do not base our suspension length or decision on whether the account is a trial or a paid one.

Thefts are more involved than that, since after permanently banning the thief, we must track where the money went to make certain the thief did not pass it off to an alternate account and leave his old account as a sacrifice for the payoff.  I have seen cases in which a person even deleted the pirate that stole the money in an attempt to hide his tracks, as well. (Hint: it didn't work.)

Thefts eat up a lot more time than simpler complaints and petitions do though, so if it's particularly busy, refunding a theft or renaming a vessel may be put on hold while complaints and petitions in the queue are dealt with first.

Other things that may eat up time in a shift are when some people get into a complaining snit and two or three people complain one another over and over in a big ring of angry for half an hour or so.  The complaints first come in for "being meen" or "harasment" and progress to "hes a tart" "wont shutup" and eventually, "BAND HIM I HATE HIM SO MUCH HE CHEETED ON ME" and "IS COMPANING ME FOR NO REASON"  Each complaint has to be opened, examined, and then closed if there is no evidence of a suspendable offense taking place in the chat log.

We also get a lot of complaints from people recruiting for flags and offering immediate royalty positions for donations too, as people object to what they perceive as selling power in the game's political structure.  I certainly don't think it's a smart idea for either party involved, but there are no rules against it.

As for governing principles, our general unchanged belief is that pillage is the beating heart of the game.  Despite posts in the forum arguing the contrary, pillage is still the main fountain by which money enters the game, and the most common team experience.  When working on Atlantis, we tried from the outset to design something that would be a fun special variant of pillage without replacing it.

We keep an eye on inflation so that things don't get out of the price range of the new or casual player, and to protect the business of shopkeepers (giving out old, rather than new items from Atlantis and sometimes in the free gifts is a part of this.)

Lastly, something that comes up quite often in meetings is keeping the game as free of "grind" as possible.  I've noticed it is very important to the developers that people aren't "forced" into a particular gameplay style or set of activities.  When the request came for the ability for commanding officers to force people out of Treasure Haul and on to other stations or to shut off the ability for people on board to haul entirely, it was turned down because we didn't want to give some players control over other players' puzzles.  As tempting as it is to reach out and take hold of the screens of those with severe puzzle vision or the recalcitrant haulers who have I GOT 3 LOCK WAIT syndrome, it's not in the cards for Puzzle Pirates.

Culture Crew

Today I thought I'd write about an interesting pattern I see in Puzzle Pirates that from my experience is not present in Three Rings's other game, Bang! Howdy.

I'm not sure if this has been blogged about to death (and with better prose) on other game type blogs, so if it has, please leave me a link in the comments so that I can learn. :)

The pattern I see I call Cultural Knowledge.

For example, when we first opened the oceans Cobalt and Viridian, and started advertising on miniclip, I saw an explosion of petitions from people who had been successfully scammed by (frankly) really shoddy scams.  "Hey, give me your account information. Let's trade accounts. I have lots of hidden money that you can't see, and you don't have as much, so I'll give you my account.  Obviously there's nothing in this for me, I'm just a magic altruist who happened to pick you out of the thousand people online to give my tons of money to!" and so on, wherein account holders would be trustingly giving out account information to total strangers.

The thing was, after some time went on, the petitions about those scams got fewer and fewer, and instead the complaints about attempted scammers got more frequent.  People weren't falling for the scams now, they were reporting the people that were trying them and successfully getting them kicked out of the game.

We were still advertising on the same sites, and we still had lots of new people coming into the game, and what's more, the number of people attempting to dupe players hadn't changed, but somehow the general knowledge of the playerbase, and thus the average player, had grown to include not to give your account information out, and that people trying to "giv 200 dubs freE" were up to no good.

I've seen the same pattern repeated with a number of new features that have come out.  The tons of petitions that we got for months after the release of bazaars and stalls regarding basic stall management or about how to give stalls to other people are gone.  We obviously still get petitions about both of these issues, but nowhere near the volume that we used to get.

While some of it is no doubt the work of things added to the game such as tips on the news board, tutorial links in the bazaar news and so on, I think that aspects of the game become "common" knowledge, and that the playerbase assimilates and updates this knowledge as the game changes.  We have a community of older players on each one of our servers now, and they not only create an identity for the oceans that gives each server a unique "feel", but also create a culture of certain wisdoms, knowledge, and "the way things are done."

The reason I think I haven't seen evidence of this same pattern in Bang! Howdy is because that game is not a socially driven game, as Puzzle Pirates is.   Bang does not have the same network of dedicated longtime players exchanging information and teaching newcomers.

There are bonuses and disadvantages to both systems, of course.  When we make changes to Puzzle Pirates, the ramifications on the experienced player base have to be considered carefully.  For example, if we were to rip apart the way pillage currently works and totally dispose of the status quo, we would risk losing our experienced players.  With a more casual and faster cycling playerbase, one can make large changes more easily, as, on a whole, people tend to be less emotionally invested in the way things currently are.

Overall, this has given me a little more understanding and patience when regarding organizations and governments that seem slow to implement what I personally view as necessary fixes or changes.  It's given me more faith in culture and the ability of the human race to collectively become wiser and learn over time.

Lastly, it's given me another viewpoint to bring to another book I've started, Everything Bad Is Good For You, which is a book that presents the argument that popular culture is increasing in depth and is actually forcing us to think in increasingly complex ways, rather than bringing humanity down in a spiral of escapism and mindless entertainment.  It starts off with a chapter on video/computer games, about which perceptions may be changing.  People have sent me some articles recently about things like video games treating chronic pain that might indicate this is so.  Hooray, a future for my profession!

Cake Roll

Ahoy there, mates!  Today we celebrate artist Blackhat making another successful trip 'round the sun with some delicious cake.  Cake! o/  We have also posted not one, but two winners of Round Two of the Grand Crafting Puzzle Project, a player run co-operative project to design and create prototypes of Puzzle Pirates crafting puzzles.  Congratulations to the winners, Platy and Haddock!  The post about the winners can be found here and the games can be played for free, along with many others, on Game Gardens.

Last week we had another of our Three Rings game nights, which was marked with traditional board games, delicious gyros, and the new-fangled delight of Rock Band!

I like Rock Band.  I don't often get hooked on console or computer games, the most notable exceptions in (fairly) recent history being Viva Pi?┬▒ata and, well, Puzzle Pirates.

Rock Band draws me in because it's a game for a group of up to four people, and in the apartment I live in, there are four residents.  One person wants to be the guitarist, one wants to be bassist, and well, two of us want to be the drummer, but we take turns so it works out all right.

The co-operative elements are woven in quite well. For example, if you don't do well and you fail on your instrument, one of your bandmates can activate his stored bonus energy and bring you back into the game.  The exception to this otherwise tight-knit gameplay seems to be the vocalist.  I'm not sure what causes this, but on the occasions that some of us have taken turns on the microphone, we've felt very isolated from the rest of the instruments.  As I have never been in a real band, I do not know if this is representative of the real band experience, or something that is made up for with crowd interaction.

The game has also brought me face-to-face with the selling power and possibilities of free downloads and movies.  Each week, new songs are released to download and play on the Rock Band platform.  So far as the music of this game is concerned, I am a bit of a cultural black hole.  I have heard of some of the groups featured, but I have never heard any of the songs.  Every week when the downloaded songs are listed, the roommates and I troop over to YouTube to listen to the songs a number of times and decide whether they sound like fun and should be purchased or not.

Does anybody else fall into this category?  For example, I can never decide if I like a music album on the first listen.  I either stream or download/borrow the album from a friend first, and listen to entire thing several times over a period of weeks and if it sinks in and I really dig the band, I buy it.  Future purchases may be made in faith if I have consistently like the band/group's work, but I would never get into new musicians if it weren't for digital media/friends.  Well, mostly digital media.

I know that when we switched to the unlimited trial time in Puzzle Pirates (this was before the doubloon model caught fire), I was enthused because I figured it would give people who are take their time making up their minds about something (like I do!) a chance to really try the game out.

Numbers have been going around comparing the success of Rock Band to Guitar Hero 3, which is an ActiVision rather than Harmonix creation.  (From what little I've seen of it, my personal opinion is that it is the weakest of the series.)  I think that the games fundamentally will appeal to different groups.  If I were a teenager living at home, I would far more likely get Guitar Hero than Rock Band.  The higher price tag of Rock Band and the multiple peripherals I might not all be playing would make it mighty unattractive as a holiday gift were I asking parents/guardians to purchase it.  Rock Band seems more likely be purchased by adults with full time jobs, more disposable incomes, and residences of their own where they can have friends over.

A word to the noise-conscious, though: while they are nowhere near the level of sound that an actual drum kit can produce, the drum peripherals can make a fair amount of noise on their own.  This is very relevant in areas like the densely populated San Francisco, where you are far more likely to be living in an apartment than in a ground-floor house of your own.  Speaking for myself, the drum peripheral setup we have at home is atop some thickly padded quilts to muffle the foot pedal for our downstairs neighbors, and I've grown accustomed to going to sleep to the sound of drum tapping carrying clearly through the apartment to the back room.

Bluebeard and I had taken to enthusiastically playing the drums during lunch here at Three Rings, until we found out that the tapping carried clearly to the front room, where it was distracting other folks trying to work.  One of the funnier moments last week was when I ran into a fellow who works for Slide, who occupy the office one floor below us.  I apologized if they'd heard any tapping on the ceiling during lunch or after hours as we'd just gotten the Rock Band peripherals set up, only to have him confess that their office had just gotten the same game, and were going to ask us if they were creating too much noise.

At any rate, it's a lot of fun, though if I lived on my own, I would likely buy the game separately and the drum peripheral when it comes out, and Drum Hero my way to smashy oblivion.  Having popped into Guitar Center to try out our tapping skills on actual drum kits, Hermes and I feel confident in saying that they translate rather well!  I can easily tap a 4/4 beat and I can drumroll.

And that brings us, via a very windy, roundabout route, to this week's question from Domokun of Sage:

"Do any of the Ringers have other secret talents?"

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