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Hypnos' Blog

Watermelon Sucker

Another week, another blog post!

The last week went by unusually fast. I don't know if it was the addition of the Technical Issues forum to my daily forum checks, the latest Ice (testing) release (which I didn't really have anything to do with, as the developers here did all of the work), or the arrival of the awesomest lollipop ever. The lollipop is from the ever-generous Rom of Cobalt, creator of the watermelon egg furniture item. I'm not sure whether I can eat it or not. It's too pretty, as well as being amazingly in theme.

In office decoration news, we've outgrown the original letter wall, and the limited wallspace around the corner, so we're now invading the hallway that leads to the office doors. (The snowman ornament, sent in by Camelama of Midnight, is incredibly soft. You can see more pictures of the pirate snowmen in her flickr set.) If we get enough letters up to line the halls, we'll have to add it to the Nautilus tour when folks come by.

On to this week's set of Odin's Burning Questions!

Today's blog questions brought to you by Piplicus, of Midnight:

"What's been the most interesting piece of correspondence from a player you've read?

Have you ever played any office jokes on Cleaver (or any other staff, for that matter), like barricading the secret door shut?"

Answer: I have a very hard time choosing from among the letters, e-mails, and petitions I've received. Working in customer service means that you work with extremes of the spectrum and lots of folks in between, meaning I have dealt with some folks that make me tear at my hair, some that move me so much that I sniffle whenever I think about them, and some that make me laugh every time I think of them. I'll do my best to cite some that I don't feel give out too much personal information.

My favorite banplea e-mail, hands down, encountered to this day is still the one that read in its entirety: "pleas off my bun. my username is *******. very pleas off my bun."

My favorite personal e-mails are ones from players whose lives have somehow been touched by Puzzle Pirates. I have gotten e-mails from married couples who first met and became friends in the game, then fell in love, and in some cases, moved halfway across the world to be with one another. I've gotten a few e-mails from people with medical conditions who find that our game helps them cheer up and to sometimes forget about the pain that they're in.

I also get e-mails from teenagers and young folks who have found that the community here and the Internet in general have expanded their horizons and allowed them to meet many people from different places and befriend them. That always makes me smile, because one of the most amazing things about the Internet to me is its ability to connect us and make the world smaller, and to confront us with our differences (and to ideally teach us to tolerate, or at least not be afraid of them.) I like mixing education in with my entertainment.

It's certainly harder to grind your teeth at the 8th person who spams you with tells begging for a free familiar and 10 million pieces of eight (he won't tell anyone. don't worry. please. please. please. please. please please please. please. please. please. please. plesasepealse. ... SCUPPER OF. i hat u. om.) because he thinks he's the only person to have ever had the brilliant idea to ask an oceanmaster for a secret fortune when you have an enthusiastic letter that came with a money order for some doubloons sitting on your desk.

I've been petitioned everything from gameplay questions to frantic petitions asking me to help find invisible tomato pets. I get lots of invites to come and check out homes that pirates are proud of, and to to come on pillages and Atlantis runs. Now and again, we get winners that we share with one another, usually to figure out what the petitioner is asking and how best to respond, but sometimes because the petitions are just little poems by themselves:

Hi I remeamber that my dad got a call frome the mom of.I think creators of puzzle pirates and she said that her kids where in the basment runing puzzle pirates and umm I was like wundering if like I cud some how work for puzzle pirates

As for practical jokes, I get shot by Cephalopod a lot. That's about it.

Keep 'em coming, folks!

2008! Awaken and Sleipnir no more!

A new year!  Three Rings bursts into full steam today, as our office reopened.  We were down a few folks today who are still wending their way homeward after a good holiday of friends and family, but overall, it was a good kick-start for January.

The first thing that needed to be addressed?  The mail pileup over the last several days.

The next was ending the Reindeer Games winter competition, or as it was called in various petitions that I received over the last few weeks, "compitition", "compotition", "compation", "compinteoin", and "Compataoin".  This end of the competition meant I got to add another nice loser trophy/trinket to my player character's collection.  Does anybody else out there always seem to end up on the dead last team?  Random, my immortal toe.

Third, as it is showing up on the news but isn't always there (it's in random rotation), I'm reminding everybody that the white tigers and winter furniture are going away on the 9th of January, so tell all of your friends, in case they're confused/wondering.

In flickr, we've added another small set of OOO holiday dinner pictures, which was held at the tucked-away and delicious Two restaurant, only a few blocks away from Three Rings.  They are mostly dark as the restaurant was not really the place to be setting off weird bright flashes.  It was delicious and many drinks were consumed.  The Cap'n (who updated his blog) made a small speech.

While we were sitting at dinner chatting away, I also heard a cool story from Peghead about how he got his name.  Years ago, when they were designing Puzzle Pirates and they were trying to determine what would distinguish the NPPs from human player characters, he came up with giving all of the bots big, wooden peg heads!  It would be distinctive and cute!  It didn't make the final cut, and now NPPs all display the two word white names that we see every day, but he still liked the idea, and named his character Peghead in honor of it.  Now you know.

Lastly, to start off the new year, Odin's Burning Fury (and Questions!) posted on the day we have named for him!

This week, the questions I am answering come from Shannal, on Midnight:

Question: How often do all of you actually play the game and puzzle?

Answer: I personally log in around once a day.  While I'm not super active, I work at shoppes (I have grown quite fond of the Ironmongery puzzle) and try to take the time to test out new features, as well as participate in things like competitions.  I'll jump on a pillage or a trade run at least once a week.

For about two to three weeks after Atlantis came out, I was addicted to Puzzle Pirates all over again.  It was great- I was racing home after 8 hours of working on things related to Puzzle Pirates at the office to boot up the laptop and get in an hour or two of turtle bashing, Bellator stabbing fun.  I don't think I'd been that hooked on the game since I discovered tailor racks in 2003.

Question: What's your favourite puzzle?

Answer: Carpentry was the only duty puzzle that I understood for a long time.  I was something like Legendary in it and Distinguished in everything else.  Nowadays I mostly stick to Ironmongery, which is relaxing, and Bilge, because it's very quick to build up to Incredible and I can play it for a few leagues at a time during lunch while I'm checking articles or other things online.

Question: Which puzzle do you despise and which developer do you have a grudge against for creating it? 

Answer: Oh god, the puzzle that gives me the most trouble by far is Alchemistry.  I really, honestly try my best to get a good head of experience in all puzzles and games, because I think that's the only way you'll understand a lot of the petitions that come in from folks asking about the minutae or rules of them, but Alchemistry just evades my comprehension and stands there pointing and laughing at me.  I can fill maybe one bottle at a time.  Those exclamations and terms that people talk about when they talk about doing that puzzle?  Never seen 'em.  I don't think I have once gotten anything above Fine, and it's usually more like Poor.

I don't have a grudge against any developer for the puzzle (I think this puzzle was Red's work, actually, and he was gone before I started to work here.)  I think this is just another example of the developers making really strategic, logical-type puzzle stuff that I am just no good at analyzing and breaking down at all.

Question: Do you wear shoes when at work or do you go around in your sock feet?

Answer
: I have been known to pad about in my socks in the office, though it makes me notice how very tall (over 6 feet) a lot of the folks that work here are.

(To submit questions for consideration, please post in this thread in the blog forum!)

Top 10 MMOs you've played?

Also, we've been nominated and are at this moment #16 in an unofficial poll of the top MMOs in the F13.net forums.  Thanks, Puzzle Pirates players who nominated us!  I find the explanations that people give in their posts much more interesting than caring about the points ranking itself.  Reminded me a bit of conversations people get into in Shore Leave comparing the merits of Y!PP versus the merits of other MMOs.  One of these days I'd like to get some of our more avid game-playing OMs to post here on their opinions and comparisons.

(Raph Koster and Sanya Thomas linked to it, so it must be good reading, right?)

Reindeer Games : unaffleckted by snow

Yarr!  Well, maybe we were a little bit misleading about our holiday release. The competition that started up yesterday, the snow, and the additional holiday hats and snow furniture seem to have been a welcome surprise to most of you.

By now, I hope that most of you that were interested and signed up have received our monthly newsletter.  If you have not and want to, there's a set of steps that I recommend:

1) Make sure you have registered an e-mail address with us and authenticated it! One would register an e-mail address with us by going to the puzzlepirates.com page and clicking on the 'Account' link at the top.
2) A lot of e-mail services think our mailings are junk.  Please check your junk/spam folders, and add the address that these mass mailings are sent from, PuzzlePirates@mail90.subscribermail.com, to your address book.
3) Petition an oceanmaster explaining that you have not received the monthly newsletter, and that you have already followed steps 1 and 2. (Our newsletter manager will try to add/resend the newsletter to you.)
and lastly,
4) Ask friends if they can forward you our newsletter. The links should still work fine.

I hope that helps!  Unfortunately for those that want to receive our newsletter and do not, we are flagged as spam by a number of services and there's little we can do about it.  According to certain rules of the service we use, we must automatically unsubscribe those folks who did not open the last newsletters, which is completely fair, except a number of e-mail programs do not properly report the newsletters as opened, and every month we get e-mails from people who regularly open and enjoy our newsletters who are suddenly off the list.

All of the difficulty associated with people not getting e-mails that they actually want to receive gets me angrier with spam programs and companies every time it comes up.  It is very difficult to do a mass mailing for (what I consider) legitimate reasons and have it be effective, while mass spam mailings, so far as I can tell, aren't nearly as affected by filters keeping them out of some areas, since they spam such a volume of addresses, compared to our comparatively small playerbase.  Furthermore, those companies probably have programmers that work constantly on coming up with more and more ways to evade the filters or trick them, while we do not have time to devote to that- we're developing games!

I admit I'm pretty ignorant of the way that spam programs and bots work, so feel free to correct any of the myriad mistaken assumptions I made in that above rant, but it doesn't change the fact that I wish that we had a more efficient way of getting e-mails to people that want to get them, and the annoying spam and trash e-mail that has been plaguing e-mail addresses since before the day I got online over a decade ago seem to ruin a number of things in a variety of far-reaching ways, in addition to being massively annoying every day.  Gah.

On a cheerier, less rant-driven note, Captain Cleaver recently was asked to contribute to a Virtual Worlds paper, which is now up and can be e-mailed to you if you request it for free here: http://www.virtualworldsmanagement.com/forecast2008/

The paper asked 45 people who worked in the business of virtual worlds (or Whirleds) the following, and gives you their essentially unedited answers:

1. What are your top 3 trend predictions for 2008?
2. What business goals have you set for 2008?
3. What challenges do you expect 2008 to bring for the virtual worlds industry?
4. A number of new platforms are launching in 2008. What are the biggest impacts this will have on the industry?
5. How will the above changes affect your specific segment of the industry in 2008?

I have not yet finished it, but so far it's an interesting read with a pretty wide range of answers.

As far as this blog goes, we added a link to a new YouTube account, where I have posted the videos that were uploaded to this blog from time to time, in a new time saving and compacted format.  Enjoy!

Winter Holly Daze

The winter release is here!  Over the last two weeks, the questions about when the holiday art and furniture were coming out have become more and more frequent.  Cephalopod reports getting tells from half of Ice every time there was a new release reboot message asking if the holiday release was here yet.  Oceanmasters were getting an increasing number of holiday related petitions, too.

What you may not know about the holiday furniture is that the new frosty fir and recolorable ornaments and bows were a very recent addition.  They were not originally planned, but a suggestion from Seville about combining the new enamel colors with the holiday furniture had Cephalopod working feverishly into the early hours of the morning to produce the customizability we currently enjoy.

It's heartwarming both that people remember the holiday furniture and goodies from last year so fondly that they are clamoring for them again, and that our player retention is successful enough that we have people from a year ago and longer around to remember the items and festivities of winters past.

To those of you joining us more recently, welcome!  We hope that you find the festivities and items enjoyable and charming, even if you are currently enjoying summer weather.

I'd like to wish a happy anniversary to our German friends on the Opal Ozean, as Opal opened just over a year ago, on December 8th. It's been a very fast year and Endymion and Thalia have been two fantastic and much-beloved additions to the OM team.

A bit off of game topic, last year we had a competition called 'Santa Rampage' which was named after the Santacon tradition of dressing up as "bad" Santa Clauses and company in cities over the world and drunkenly taking to the streets.  Our CEO and Cap'n Cleaver ran into such a group of drunken Santas one evening in a bar in Key West and the rest, as they say, is history and buttless chaps.

I am pleased to report that Santa Rampaging is thriving, and that over 13,000 Santas converged in Derry, Ireland last weekend.  San Francisco is scheduled for its yearly invasion this coming Saturday, December 15th.

I hope that Puzzle Pirates continues to promote community and sociability this season as well as the rest of the year.  While we try to give players things that they want and can be excited about, such as seasonal items and themed gifts that they can give to their friends, we also try to keep things in balance by not being excessive or tasteless, or by spending too much time making fancy items for the sake of promoting spending and collecting versus development time making new features that can be enjoyed by everybody throughout the year.

I really like our environmentally friendly holiday trees (0% organic! Long-lasting and extremely compact!) but I like that we spend a lot of time developing and trying to make things fun instead of marketing and promoting even more.  I like that the holiday release and themed items came out in December, rather than the middle of October.  (I take the anticipation and gentle tells that folks wanted the holiday things to come out soon as a good sign, as opposed to people rolling their eyes and boycotting the palace shoppe!)  I like that virtual gifts like music files and online cards can now be exchanged to convey cheer and affection without necessarily using resources like paper and plastic wrapping.  Without getting on a soapbox, I hope that all of you have a great time for the rest of 2007, that you get to visit friends and family, and that you celebrate  holiday eating, drinking, and spending in good quantity, good cheer, and good balance.

It's been another wonderful year working with this company and working for you.  Thank you all. ~Hypnos

The Adventures of Links

A quick post to point out two links:

More photos of the Three Rings post-Halloween extravaganza are up, and can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ypp_piccies/sets/72157603100625533/

and Typepad is no longer allowing me to update the sidebar, so I have to republish the index page in an attempt to get it to do it automatically.  We now have a new forum to increase exposure, ease of finding, and discussion about the stuff posted here.  Enjoy!

The Erika Thunderpants Project

Ahoy mates!

As we eagerly await the winter holiday release (I stepped into an inn on Hunter yesterday and got a barrage of questions regarding the winter holiday furniture and when they'll be available for purchase) I thought I'd go over some background on the upcoming release on Ice.  If you haven't been to Ice and don't want to know about some of the changes in the next release, read no further!

A 7th Brigand King joins us from the frozen northlands, and she's a Viking goddess, a shrieking valkyrie of fury.  I may have the teensiest crush on the lovely Brynhild and her pupiless, icy blue eyes.

What you folks may not know is that the name Brynhild Skullsplitter was one of the last things decided about her.  We knew while we were preparing to release the longship that we would introduce a new Viking brigand king, but that was about it.  Greenbones (pictured here) knew he wanted her to be female, so she was given the working name Erika Thunderpants by Sophocles while we were working on the release.

The two types of helmet for each gender were born from Greenbones' love of Scandinavian lore.  (He has lamented more than once that the descendants of this fierce culture who used to burn and conquer and make blood eagles of their victims now export minimalist furniture and lingonberry preserves, and that the only expression of their formerly bloodthirsty nature seems to be burning their own churches.)

While we knew that people would want the horned helmets that are the image that often comes to mind when one says "vikings", they are not in fact historically accurate.  The horned helmets and the image of blonde women in pointy breasted armor singing came about in the 18th and 19th century, when German opera such as Richard Wagner's  Der Ring des Nibelungen idealized the Norse history and culture.  (These images still appear in popular culture today, in Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes and in comic strip Hagar the Horrible, to name two examples.)

The horned helmets had to be made because they were too much fun to be left out (and as the forum folks often say, fun > realism) but the traditional Saxon helmets with the eye and nose guards were added as well.

An interesting note - the recipe for the helmets was originally going to include three gold ore.  We decided to change that for orange enamel since it seemed a shame that all of the helmets lately (and the first battle helmet for the ladies) be so astronomically out of reach for most pirates.

On the topic of enamel, when we released the new Norse-themed furniture items, there was a valid complaint that the color range was limited, since there are only 8 colors for enamel currently in existence.  This is of course because enamel is used for swords, and there are only so many variations on drop patterns that can exist.  While we were first presented with the suggestion to use paint for furniture instead of enamel, we turned that suggestion down for two reasons.

1) We had always used enamel in furniture instead of paint.  If we suddenly switched, people who had purchased furniture with the more expensive enamel in it would be really annoyed that they had paid more for a limited color palette.

2) Furnishers already have to stock an insane number of commodities from the game.  We did not want to require them to stock all colors of paint in addition to all enamels.

It was decided then that we would just make a full range of enamel colors so that people could have furniture in any color that they wanted.  Cephalopod got that coded into the game very fast.  The most complicated part seemed to be deciding on recipes and making sure the new furniture colors looked good.

That's about it for the public features of the new release.  Recommended listening for reading this post and for always is Jonathan Coulton's IKEA.

Party like it's 1699

Life may be good, but as the zombie-themed party at Three Rings showed us, coming back from the dead to shamble around in out of season costumes may be even better.

As Hermes, Bia, Lejerque, and I boarded the bus in the rain in costume in mid-November to transport ourselves to the party, we noticed a fellow on the same bus dressed in black and dog-style facepaint.  This being San Francisco, nobody gave the five of us a second look.  As it turned out, he was headed to the same place, and was our bartender for the night.  Har!

Pictures from the conference and party are posted up on the Puzzle Pirates flickr account.

It was bustling, it had delicious food, and it was covered by very large intimidating Samoan security guys.  Again I got to experience the oddness that is dancing to very loud music on the spot where my desk normally stands.

This year, I got to meet even more oceanmasters in person, which is always great.  As Shannal pointed out in an earlier post comment, working with people you both like and respect is really valuable.

As Puzzle Pirates grows and adds more features, more players, and obviously, more oceanmasters, it's good to have a conference every year to work on both cohesion and consistency.  The way Puzzle Pirates has grown as a game and as a support team is very organic, which is solidly how Three Rings likes it. (Cleaver mentioned getting e-mail offers for $3/hour outsourced support from other countries, which he thankfully discarded without a thought.)

Having former players from around the world doing support is not a perfect system though, so we always have to work on trying to keep things as fair as possible, especially in that nebulous grey area in which one's nationality, upbringing, and social surroundings can often make quite a difference, such as in language and what's considered derogatory and unacceptable vs. what is merely rude.

The more I see in the game industry the more I notice how differently Three Rings does a lot of things than the vast majority of companies that I've come across.  For example, we merge support roles with community management, meaning that the OMs that take care of bans and problems are the same people that moderate the forums that are also the nice folks running events and chatting with people socially.

I think a large part of that is because we also have a cool and organic group of very social players, who realize the difference between suspension policy and personal irritation.  What surprises me is that since I was hired over two years ago, people have been consistently supportive of having OMs in a social role, despite the fact that we're also the people that hand out suspensions and bans.  I like that, since I take it as a sign of trust and community that we can handle interaction with people without getting superbly biased.

In short, it was a great party, and I'd like to thank the OMs for coming, Three Rings for being a great company, and all of you for being such a great community to work for.  I'm looking forward to another year.

Vikings ahoy!

These last weeks have seen the wrap-up of our Hallowe'en monster mash and the unveiling of our new Viking themed ships and helmets as we usher in the fall season in Puzzle Pirates.  Hooray for zombies!

An interesting quirk when we unveiled the zombies on production oceans was how easy people seemed to find them compared to skellies.  Both swordfight and rumble difficulties are set by developers, and before we released the zombies, there was actually the opposite concern- that zombies at the same AI difficulty level as skellies would prove too difficult for our players to defeat.  After debating it for a while, we decided to release the zombies at the same level anyway, and monitor the feedback.  To our great surprise, people mowed through the zombies.  They were smashing through them with overwhelming success, and we actually had to tweak the AI difficulty level higher than that of skellies to compensate.  Hooray for bludgeons!

The Atlantis rush of August has leveled out and seems to be at a good balance of activity with pillage.  We saw a number of players jump in activity level when Atlantis was released and the enthusiasm was great!  We do not want to change the fact that pillage is the core cooperative activity of the game though, and right now Atlantis (and hopefully future iterations of sea monsters) is a well-liked alternative to pillage, not its usurper.  Hooray for balance!

With the large number of new game features we've added in the last year, including but not limited to duty puzzle maneuvers, voyage configuration, flotillas, Brigand King blockades, new tournament settings, swabbie ship transport, blacksmithing, sea monsters, and zombies, we are going to be taking a deep breath, enjoy the spicy brew we have created in the game, and take stock of what we are going to take on next.  Hooray for depth of gameplay!

I can hardly wait.

OOO, Halloween!

Yarr. As we wrap up our yearly Halloween festivities in Puzzle Pirates, we at Three Rings also commemorated everybody's favorite holiday of the dead with costume, revelry, and gourd carving.  All photos seen in this entry and more can be viewed on the Puzzle Pirates Flickr page.

Here Cephalopod and Mrs. Ceph arrive as Black and White Mage- possibly less confusing if Black Mage's hat hadn't kept trying to poke people throughout the evening.  Not to be outdone on the video game characters front, Blackhat and his lady Jess attended as the Weighted Companion Cube and Chell from Portal.

The elusive Bungleton put in an appearance as a nefarious scheming banana.  The lovely Mrs. Bungleton was a peacock, not a can of peanut butter and jelly, to the eternal disappointment of Cephalopod and Hermes.  Also, banana stuffing?  Surprisingly soft and velvety to the touch.

Speaking of Hermes and his disappointment, our speedy oceanmaster came dressed as Phoenix Wright, rounding out the game character contingent.  Unfortunately, the one shot of Bia as Interstate 5 was in this group shot of Hermes, Bia, and Peghead that came out blurred.

The office looked fantastic.  I'd like to salute our new office manager Natalie for setting up the themed lights, webs, and other holiday decoration.  Games, drinks, candy bags, music, and an amazing number of pizzas were provided, then out came the pumpkins!

As it turns out, Cap'n Cleaver and I were both pumpkin greenies, and carved our very first ones.  Trust the cap'n to look at a pumpkin and see a woman inside, eh?

Through the course of the evening, a large number of entries into our own pumpkin carving contest were displayed on two long tables in the back.  Here you can see table 1, the other half of table 1, spider pumpkin (taken separately with flash since it had no candle, yarr), the first half of table 2, and the second half of table 2.

While pictures of the cap'n dressed as a lacy ninja or a Muslim widow unfortunately escaped this camera, I will be on the prowl. Future photos, if found, will be posted here.  Happy Hallowe'en, all!

Hollow's Eve

As Bungleton cleans up in poker night, I sit here listening to the shouting of Roparzh, Hermes, and Bluebeard playing Team Fortress 2.  It's a good thing I love my job, because sometimes we spend a lot of time in the office. :)

The release yesterday went very smoothly, so far as releases go.  Nothing exploded, no servers needed to be taken down for emergency fixin's, no one had to have a stiff drink when it was all over.  So far almost all of the features and fixes have gotten positive reactions, though there's some contention over the skelly fight changes.

The most petitions I seemed to get yesterday actually had to do with the pumpkin furniture, and people wondering if that was all we were doing for Hallowe'en this year.

For those of you that are relatively new to Puzzle Pirates, Hallowe'en is the holiday of the year where we usually come out with some special features, such as blood red seas and people turning into transparent ghosts, people turning into skellies, masks, and other fun surprises.  This year as we released a rather large bugfix and tweak release close to the holiday, some people were concerned that all we were doing so far as festivities went was adding a piece of fall furniture.

Many of these petitions were polite.  Many of them were not.  One in particular stands out to me as the petitioner was deriding Three Rings for ignoring its playerbase and repaying its customer loyalty with a cop-out.

This brings up a larger issue for me to discuss, which is happiness with the game in general.  While we naturally have more planned for this year's All Hallows Eve than pumpkin patches, whether the festivities of a holiday live up to your expectations and exceed last year's Arrmageddon or fall short, you should hopefully not measure your satisfaction with Puzzle Pirates (or with most things) with the latest update, especially a largely cosmetic one.

Ideally, you should look over your entire time in the game, what has been added, and what you've liked and what you've disliked.  If you find that the game is lacking, not worth your time, or if you have not liked the changes made to the game over time, it may be time for you to find another pastime that you would be happier with. (Giving us feedback about why you dislike the changes and leaving is helpful! Posting angrily that we're ruining everything without explaining your reasoning is not.) Over time most people will likely have updates that they like and updates that they don't.  The feedback from releases contributes to tweaks that ideally suit the largest number of people possible.

While we do our best to keep our existing players happy and not alienated, there are, as always, new and potential players to consider, as well.  The Puzzle Pirates playerbase is still growing and we're always interested in adding to our number.  Looking over what's been added to this game this year, whether you like the features or not, I think it's apparent that we haven't been slacking at the code or art boards.  This Hallowe'en is no different than the years previous or this year-to-date.  I am looking forward to unveiling the surprise and I hope that we all have a fantastic Hallowe'en in Puzzle Pirates this year.

Late Blooming

October is settled in, and with it the cooler temperatures of fall in San Francisco.  In stark contrast to the browning flora and the shorter days however, is the nonstop construction going on downtown.

In short order, we in CephaloPod have seen two buildings being constructed from our window.  In the spirit of autumn growth, Three Rings also hired two new employees, web engineer Sarah Collins and new office manager Natalie Larsen.  (We should update the About page.)

Recent office workings have mostly involved bugfixes of various types as they crop up.  We found a fascinating one having to do with old versions of java on Mac that we can't believe was never reported: run java 1.4 or older and every graphic with a transparency turns into shifting rainbows.  Disco Puzzle Pirates! (3 MB)  Treasure Haul was especially fabulous awesome. (also 3 MB)  We wondered about the unlikely possibility that this had anything to do with the reports we got of Treasure Haul causing migraines, twitchiness, leprosy, etc. when it was first released, but could not confirm anything.

Lastly, there've been a lot of flash games making the rounds.  I find myself playing a lot of GCPP's Platy and Jayisgames.com's contest finalist Gimme Friction Baby.  I've been plotting on how to put these in Whirled or make the latter some sort of weird feature in Puzzle Pirates.  Also, I am very proud of my extremely low-sounding score of 14 in it.

Cons and Piracy Theory

The eyepatch business of last week took longer than it sounds like, but just this week it was released in all of its smooth and unjagged glory. Hooray!

On the support front, we've been getting a lot of petitions lately from people convinced that poker is "rigged" and that winning hands are predetermined.  I do not know if this is because too many people stay in with bad cards and then sometimes see unlikely hands turned/rivered or if there's a rumor going around.

One pirate claimed that people were "hacking" poker.  The proof of this was because he had been beaten at poker by one of the hackers, so it was obvious there was a hack to win at poker.

Another of the petitioners said that it was obvious that less established pirates (with lower all around experience stats, I am assuming) got better cards.  I had an amusing time trying to think of how we would code such a thing into the game of poker, while still keeping up the card randomization and reshuffling things every time somebody got up from a seat or joined a table, and how much longer it would take to program in this strangely illogical algorithm into the game instead of say, just programming a game of poker.

Mostly though, it reminded me that the human mind naturally looks for patterns.  We search for a larger overall scheme in everything that we do.  It serves us well in areas like battle navigation, where some people are so good at it that they can predict where the AI will move reliably, and makes things like programming an AI that people won't figure out quickly complicated, indeed.

Sometimes though, I feel that this ability to watch for patterns comes up with bizarre and convoluted scenarios that would be far harder to implement than they would be worth.

For example, as an OM I have been told that it's obvious we always side with the customer who has spent the most money.  Actually calculating who has spent more money in resolving a dispute would take a long time.  We'd have to add up all past purchases, look for alt accounts and purchases there, or in the case of subscribers, see who had been subscribing longer, take into account the discounted rate of discounts like buying a year at once, as well as see who had been gifting away months and things like that.  In the cases involving multiple people such as flags, I suppose we'd have to calculate what every member had spent, add it all up, and divide by number of members?

It takes far less time to look at the case and try to decide as fairly as we can (though I admit that we are human and will certainly not always find a solution satisfactory to everybody) than adding up all of those numbers for a judgement.

Taking this to a greater extreme, I once had somebody petition that his friend was claiming to be a close friend of a specific OM's, which meant that she got all sorts of free gifts and that she could never be banned.  The proof that this was true, in the petitioner's mind, was that this pirate was obviously not banned.

He was quite incensed that OMs were allowed to give away free gifts and be so biased as to promise people that they could never be banned, and no OM was going to tell him that this was not the case, since OMs obviously weren't going to tell anybody outside of their special circle of favored friends.  Every new item that his friend bought was further proof to him that an OM was giving her free things and not banning her.

I couldn't convince this person to /complain his friend for claiming to get special treatment from OMs, as this was against the Terms of Service, since he had been told that his friend could get other people banned by her special OM friend for telling on her.

Now that I think back on it, I'm not exactly sure what he expected us to do if all of this were indeed true, nor can I figure out why he was petitioning an OM about it, since we were obviously paragons of corruption.

Regardless, please take my gentle warning readers: you are all very smart, and as this is a puzzle game, very good at disseminating and spotting patterns in the game.  Beware of patterns that don't exist because in a game as social as this, word of mouth and rumors are powerful things, indeed.  I just wish I could give them all old style male eyepatches, so you could see them coming.

Patching after Atlantis

This week we start off this Puzzle Pirates blog entry with an issue dear to all of our hearts: gender equality.

It cannot have escaped your collective notice that there exists a massive inequality between the male and female pirates of Y!PP, and the developers are not going to stand for it any more.

I speak, of course, of eyepatches.

The eyepatch has long been a sore point of contention between genders in our game.  Highly sought-after, rare, and once gotten, noticeably unequal because the female eyepatches look better.

Female eyepatches are antialiased and male eyepatches are not.  The reason for this is interesting: when first creating the game and putting in the injuries, male eyepatches were set as their own separate layer, but female eyepatches went under the category of facial hair.  This was because hair and facial hair could be antialiased, but clothing layers had to be in 8-bit so that they could be recolored.

Some of you may remember the Santa hats of last winter holiday, when Cephalopod had to make a separate head for bearded ladies with eyepatches because you can't add a beard when somebody already has a beard (well, a beard that's an eyepatch, anyway.)  Female eyepatches + beard in fact made a separate facial hair head that was called up if the female character had an eyepatch already.

Finally now, after years of anticipation, the inequality is coming to an end.  Since eyepatches never need be recolorable, code will be rearranged, art tweaked, continents moved, and male eyepatches will soon be antialiased like female eyepatches and the glass ceiling of smooth eyepatch blending into the head of male pirates will be no more.

One-eyed males of the ocean, unite! *Hypnos burns his 8-bit eyepatch*

Elite Duty Pay

Also from Roparzh, a freakonomics blog post about the economics of piracy that I know will be of great interest to you mates.  It talks about a book written about booty divvy and compensation for injuries incurred in the line of duty.  Piratey!

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