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How to get from Dress Up Game Jam to Pizza OWL in six easy steps:

(1) This is a cool game jam. I should make a game where the clothes all have randomly generated descriptions!

(2) It’d be helpful to have a list of clothing types. Wikipedia sort of has one but it’d be hard to scrape all of the hierarchical categories. Hmm.

(3) And anyway, it’s not enough to have just clothing types! It’d also be nice to know where they go on the body and what parts they have (sleeves, collars).

(4) Wikipedia definitely won’t have that in a computer readable format. But maybe some semantic web folks have made an open clothing ontology? *googles*

(5) (later) Ugh, all of these ontologies are either too domain-specific (commerce, museums) or laden with weird gender/body type assumptions. Ugh ugh.

(6) I guess I should just bite the bullet and make my own tiny ontology. But I want to share it with other people in an open file format… and that format is OWL… so, uh, how do I write OWL?


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Last Baby Standing

Last Baby Standing is a game/sim/toy for Facebook, made during last weekend’s Global Game Jam. The game generates statistics for your Facebook friends, then lets you “mate” any two together, producing statistics and a unique biography for each “child.” The game tied for first place in the “Wild Card” category in NYU Game Center’s chapter of the jam. I was part of the extremely talented crew that made this game—here’s the GGJ page for the game, which includes full credits. And here’s the Game Center’s write-up of the event, which includes a full list of winners and links to the all of the games.

Oh, and here’s the github repository.

The theme of this year’s jam was “extinction,” which we found a bit difficult to work with. For the first few hours on Friday night, we worked on an abstract puzzle/gambling game based on the definition of “extinction” in psychology. (The initial prototype of that game is still in the repository as We couldn’t figure out how to make that fun, so we searched for alternative ideas; Last Baby Standing is the result. I’m extremely happy with how we were able to corral all of our technical and creative talents to make something interesting and fun that (mostly!) works great.

Things I learned (mostly technical):

  • FQL is a finicky playmate. Queries that work fine for 200 friends time out with 400. (We used LIMIT clauses and ORDER BY RAND() to get around this limitation. I didn’t know FQL even supported those clauses!)
  • Tornado‘s Facebook Graph authentication mixin doesn’t work right out-of-the-box. I needed to make some changes to the example code and also use the version fresh from the repository (rather than the currently released version).
  • If the whole comedy writing thing doesn’t pan out for him, Rob Dubbin has a real future in generative baby biographies.
  • All you need to produce satisfying portmanteaunomastics is about ten lines of Python code and a regular expression.
  • It is possible to get a decent amount of sleep during the Global Game Jam. You just need to feel confident in the talents and time management skills of your teammates.

I hope everyone enjoys the game! Thanks to the NYU Game Center for hosting, and to Matt Parker in particular for keeping everything running smoothly.

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Just made a post this morning on Warp Skip regarding Foursquare, XBL achievements and usability. Here’s an excerpt:

Gamerscore and achievements serve a similar purpose. They give you feedback on your play; they give you acknowledgment when you do something noteworthy; they let you know (in broad terms) how much of a game’s content you’ve completed; they let you compare the way you’re playing the game to the way your friends are playing it. Achievements are one of the reasons I prefer playing games on the 360 to playing games on (for example) the Wii: more feedback, more context, makes for a more fun gaming experience.

With a few notable exceptions, no one plays games just for the achievements. They’re not a goal in and of themselves. Likewise, no one “plays” Foursquare just to get the badges. Both badges and achievements are there to let you know that your activities follow a particular pattern. As an added benefit, badges and achievements you haven’t earned yet suggest what other patterns are possible.

I wrote this before I read Sirlin’s response to Jesse Schell’s lecture, in which we are urged “to be vigilant against external rewards” (such as achievements). “How resistant are you to letting others manipulate you with hollow external rewards?” asks Sirlin. Obviously, I am much more sanguine about achievements—I think that people like them because they are useful and fun—and hope to argue for this more effectively in a future post.

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On top, we have a table of truth values that result when comparing values of different types in PHP. On bottom, we have a chart illustrating the strengths and weaknesses of the seventeen types of Pokémon. Is it crazy to wonder whether one might have influenced the other?

The former is a matrix of arbitrary values intended to produce convenience. The latter is a matrix of arbitrary values intended to produce fun. In my experience, neither achieves its goal. But both follow an arbitrary logic, strangely twisted through history and culture, that might someday make a good subject for a Ph.D. thesis. (Why does a non-empty string equate with integer zero? Why is Psychic strong against Poison?)

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Recently Leonard Richardson and I recorded a conversation about the popular DS game Scribblenauts. The result is called The Trouble with Scribbles. The conversation ranged from NetHack to Star Trek to Japanese mythology; I think somewhere along the way we managed to have a genuine insight or two. Listen in and tell us what you think.

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On Day 3 of 5-in-5, C. Anderson Miller and I decided to collaborate on a board game. We ended up with a game we call Subwoofer Tactics. It’s a turn-based game in which players compete to knock their opponent’s pieces off the game board by vibrating the board with a subwoofer. Read more about the game here (including the official rules for tournament play). Watch the video below to see the game in action.

Subwoofer Tactics from Anderson Miller on Vimeo.

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My day 1 project was about an analogy between retro video games and printmaking.


The Nintendo Entertainment System has a limited palette: of fifty-odd possible colors, only twenty-five can appear at any one time, and only four of those can be used in a single sprite. Games produced for the NES made careful use of this palette, expressing as much information through color as possible. This is famously the case in the Mega Man games for the NES, in which Mega Man (our hero) changes colors to indicate which weapon he’s using.

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