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GDC Europe 2011 – the Web as a games platform

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I attended GDC Europe 2011 in Cologne back in August. If you haven’t run into GDC previously it’s the main games developer event in Europe and comes just before Gamescom which is an absolutely gigantic.

The most interesting topic of conversation was that we’re in a period of considerable change for the games industry as online and the Web become increasingly important. In a panel discussion Martin de Ronde of Vanguard Games summed it up by pointing out that what’s most confusing for the industry is that the period of transition is unclear. But, that the eventual outcome will be a future of many screens, with many platforms and that the aim for developers has to be to provide players with the ability to play anywhere and any time. For Ubuntu this is a very positive perspective as we know we’ll be on many devices and form-factors.

I sat in lots of talks and panels about on-line gaming and the Web – the speed and velocity of change is clearly still controversial. The general perception is that the Web isn’t quite ready for Core Gamers but that it could get there very quickly. Aside from the buzz around online games the other issue is the impact it has on development costs. In one talk about publishers it was pointed out that a PC game costs 2-3 million to develop, while a console game is 8 million (!) or above. Meanwhile, an on-line game will be considerably cheaper at around 500k.

The primary reason given for why Web games aren’t ready is the lack of bandwidth which makes it difficult to deliver a high production value. One insightful point was that the technical limitations mean it’s useful to think about specific genres since some will be easier than others to put on the Web. The costs and revenue potential is also very different, with the opportunity to do long-tail revenue with an online game. For me an implicit issue is that the software stack around “HTML5” is still immature so you’re bound to see issues and incompatibilities – this is probably something that we in Ubuntu have felt the full pain off in the past with Flash!

So where are the opportunities for smaller developers? Well everyone seems to agree that digital distribution is revolutionising the way in which developers can reach players. And that this change is going to be across every player segment and on multiple different plaforms. However, the challenge for developers is that they’ll need to form a relationship with players and do some of the things publishers have previously done – market and sell their game. Luckily the Web is a great platform for this.

From an Ubuntu perspective GDC confirmed that digitial distribution is now considered mainstream, so everything that we’re doing in Software Center and our developer programme is timely. For the future it seems clear that the Web is going to be a major gaming platform which will benefit Ubuntu users as it offers the promise that they can play on an equal footing to everyone else. Clearly, we’ll want to look for ways to influence and get our voice heard on aspects of the technology stack, since it will impact our users in the future. Moreover, our experiences as an alternative platform contain valuable insights for those developing and choosing the future software gaming stack.

Phew! so GDC was great, though it was a bit of a culture shock. Particularly, on the last day when I blearily made my way into the convention centre and in the corner of my eye caught three camels walking along the road – it made me jump in surprise! It turned out they were for free rides during Gamescom. Only at a games conference do you get that sort of marketing!


Written by Steve George

November 25, 2011 at 18:54

Comfortable wiki editing

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Wikis are great for collaboration, and using your favourite editor makes life more comfortable.  These directions show you how to use Vim on Ubuntu to edit a MoinMoin wiki.

If you spend a lot of time editing a wiki you soon realise that working in a tiny browser text box isn’t that comfortable.  It would be much better if you could use your favourite editor.  That way if Firefox crashes you still have a local copy.  With local editing you can also keep working while the wiki previews your page.  And, re-united with your editor you get to use all those cool productivity-enhancing key combinations that you paid for with serious RSI!

The trick is to use the Firefox add-on It’s All Text! by docwhat. This add-on lets you specify a local editor to use when you edit a textarea.  When you edit a wiki page instead of typing in it you can run your mouse over the bottom of the text area and a small blue “edit” button appears.  If you click this the external editor you specified is launched.

I’m using gvim, so when I click the edit button a gvim window pops up with the mark-up and contents of the wiki page there read for me to edit.  If I save the file then the textarea flashes yellow in my browser as it updates from my gvim window.  When I’ve finished with my page I dismiss the gvim window, preview my page and save.

As Ubuntu uses MoinMoin I wanted to add highlighting so that when I’m editing a wiki page it looks neat and tidy.  Since It’s All Text! provides the buffer as a normal .txt file I needed to tell it how to highlight the MoinMoin file when it loads it.  Here are the steps:

1.  Get the MoinMoin syntax file
There’s a MoinMoin syntax file on Vim Scripts directory so download and save it into ~/.vim/syntax/moin.vim

Just for completeness I’m actually using Gustavo’s moin.vim which is in the latest version of his editmoin. I use a dark background and his highlights are a bit more straightforward.

After you’ve done this you can check it works by saving a MoinMoin wiki page to your system.  Then opening it in vim and running the following command which will show highlights:
:setf moin

2.  Tell vim about locally saved files
Add the following to your ~/.vim/filetype.vim

augroup filetypedetect
au BufNewFile,BufRead *.moin setf moin
au BufNewFile,BufRead *.wiki setf moin
augroup END

This comes from a Wikipedia page on Text editor support when editing Wikipedia.  I believe you only need this step if you’re going to be keeping local copies of your wiki pages as something .moin.  I do this a lot as I like local backups and want to see the highlights when I open them in vim.

At this point you can check it’s working by opening a locally saved MoinMoin page and the highlights should take effect automatically.

3.  Tell It’s All Text! how to launch gvim
Finally, you need to tell the It’s All Text! extension how to launch gvim with the MoinMoin syntax highlighting turned on.  First you need to add a small script somewhere in your path (for me in ~/bin/), it contains:

set -eu
exec /usr/bin/gvim -c “setf moin” “$@”

Just edit the Preferences for It’s All Text! and test it out.  It should launch your gvim window and set the file to being moin so that your highlights are applied.

This is very applicable to other editors, such as Emacs, and perhaps even OpenOffice’ new wiki editor.

The only thing I can’t work out how to do is to apply different settings and highlights depending on which wiki I’m editing.  This is a feature editmoin has that’s pretty useful.


Written by Steve George

February 4, 2009 at 02:36

Posted in Linux, Ubuntu, Web

Managing your identity with ClaimID

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In the Internet's environment of free expression passions often run hot. Flamewars and vitriolic rants enliven online conversations making them interesting and human. But, will those passionate words come back to haunt you? What picture do they paint to a prospective employer, and what inferences will be drawn about you in thirty years time? A digital world is transforming our identities, making them public.

Our online activities leave a trail of bread crumbs behind us that search engines gather together. Try searching yourself on Google or egoSurf, to see what trail you've already left behind. As more of our activities migrate online they become public, indexable and searchable. The read-write web envisioned by Web 2.0 is increasing this trend as it stores social relationships and interactions. Consider what Flickr, Delicious, Technorati and Friendster could reveal about you: this might include information on your holidays, hobbies and work.

Managing our identity is a complex issue because it involves issues of ownership, perception and change. A key problem is we all play a variety of parts (personas) in different social spheres. As Shakespeare said in As you Like it (Act ii. Sc. 7):

"All the world 's a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts"

For example, character aspects we emphasise in work may be different to those we accentuate in our local community. The virtual world doesn't recognise social boundaries so merges our interactions into a single identity which may be misleading.

ClaimID is a service that helps you to categorise your personas and present a multi-faceted on-line identity. You gain control by sifting and sorting links about yourself into groups. These groups represent social spheres and together they represent how you wish to be perceived. When someone wants to find out about you, or you want provide information about yourself you can direct them to your ClaimID page.

To use the service you sign up for a home page where you collect and group links that describe and annotate your identity. So you might have a group called Personal where you collect links that describe you personally such as your blog, delicious and flickr. Another group would be Professional with links to organisations and places you've worked. ClaimID lets you specify who authored the link and whether it's about you or not. The completed page is a list of groups that defines your personas and aggregates them into a single meta-identity. This is my page for Steve George.

It's a nice service, cleanly presented and executed. It took me about two hours to decide what groups I wanted and to populate my page. It would have been nice if there were some templates to use, and perhaps a wizard to make searching for yourself easier. The most time consuming aspect was finding links and deciding what was appropriate. My name is very common and my online footprint anaemic so my links were sunk under a army of impostor Stephen George, Steve George and slgeorge pages.

ClaimID doesn't tackle information collecting about you on the Interent. And we often value what we find out about someone more than what they tell us about themselves. Nor does it authenticate us and attest to our identity. But it is an interesting first step to managing our identity.

Do you think that the Internet is changing identity? And, is ClaimID a useful way of managing your identity?

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Written by Steve George

May 23, 2006 at 14:23

Visualising web search

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Attended an interesting talk by Karen Blakeman on Getting more from the Web at the Institute of Directors last night. The audience were business leaders, not technology people so Karen's talk focused on tools and strategies for accomplishing better searching. She did a great job in the time available.

With more time I'd have loved to hear how she undertakes some common business searches. I'm sure every business has looked for information on their competitors, customers and market dynamics. New tools like RSS and blogs also have great potential for actively monitoring market perceptions.

I was surprised how few of the audience had used the advanced search capabilities of Google, probably less than 25%. Admittedly, I'm a Google addict, colleagues get sick of hearing me say "Google is your friend!" to every question. But without some basic knowledge like using phrases and boolean logic you can't get the best results.

Better user interfaces would help searchers to undertake the right search and visualisation tools help to interpret results. My research for web search visualisation tools didn't turn up anything brilliant – ironic I know!

Grokker is the best visualization/visualisation tool I found, it shows you an outline view by subject and a dynamic map view. It's in Flash and searches Google and Wikipedia. It works fine on Mac, I haven't tested if it is compatible with the Linux version of Flash. The Brain does simple but easy to navigate visualisation. It's in Flash and doesn't work properly on Mac or Linux. Kartoo is again written in Flash, and the look and feel seems like it's designed for children but it's an interesting tool. Quitura may be the best tool, if you are a Windows user and are allowed to install software on your computer.

The only cross-platform, non proprietary interface, visualisation for search engines I could find was Clusty. It gives you categories which are somewhat useful. I think the one I may use is, Dogpile, although it isn't aiming at visualisation you can do some comparison between different search engines.

Do you have any secret search tips? And, do you know of any good search visualisation tools or use any of the ones I've mentioned?

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Written by Steve George

May 16, 2006 at 13:06

Posted in Google, Internet, Web