Casual gaming, economics of play

While browsing the iPhone AppStore, came across a game called Flight Control, and purchased it on a whim. It’s a simplified ATC simulation, based on defining routes for aircraft using the touch screen, and a great concept executed to a polished sheen – art, sounds, etc are all there, on top of a classic repeatable game mechanic with a good balance of infuriating chance and experience-based play.

The game is horribly, horribly addictive. Each game might only last forty seconds or a few minutes at most, but that’s pretty much perfect for a casual phone game.

A few interesting points here – firstly that when browsing the store, $0.99 / £0.59 is definitiely a price point at which I will impulse buy – especially if there’s some decent reviews. This is, after all the price of a chocolate bar. Secondly the ‘entertainment value’ of that money is ridiculously high (give that I’ve got at least an hour’s play out of this thing, cummulatively), compared to a pub-quiz machine, going to the cinema, purchasing a triple-A game, etc.

Thirdly, the whole mechanic of browsing the AppStore, with the possibility (not even the intent) to purchase is a very different way of interacting with the market of possible games than before. Better discovery mechanisms are needed, and I’m still waiting for the market to produce more variety (bring on an X-Com clone please), but it’s still a completely new way to treat software – except, maybe, if you’re browsing a street-market in China where every illegal disc costs $2.

Fourthly, the game mechanic really needs the touch screen – you could build the same thing in Flash, on the web, but I don’t think it would have the same physical joy of dragging the little planes around. Maybe that’s just me.

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Watchmen

is excellent from start to finish. I can understand why people unfamiliar with the novel might find it a little long / slow in the first half, but for someone who’s read the book it treads a careful line between carbon-copying the original plot (which might lead to a five-hour epic, take note Mr Jackson) and throwing away the characterization that makes the original so strong. As it is all of the characters are well developed, some a little weaker than others, but great performances delivered all around – especially from the people playing the Comedian and Rorschach.

There’s good use of panels from the original art as storyboards – not quite to the Sin City extreme, but a balance that doesn’t feel forced. Similarly there’s good use of flashbacks and cuts between narrative tracks to advance the story in ways not possible on paper, and excellent use of music to offset and complement scenes. Most importantly, the brutality, starkness and excellent dialogue has survived the transition to film very well, again especially in the Rorschach character which I feared might be toned down. Someone obviously decided early on to make the film an 18/R-rating and stuck with it – and they should be saluted for that.

Minor niggles – the Adrian Veidt character and background wasn’t very fully developed, despite being pretty well cast (though probably the weakest of the main characters, just not by much). The Dr Manhattan sequences looked overtly CGI – no real way around that, but it feels like the illumination model used was a bit simplistic – probably needed to make a full 3D scan of each set and do a lighting pass with the blue to get the shadows right. As it stands, Dr Manhattan tends to look super-imposed, though it could be argued this is a narrative effect rather than lazy compositing.

I am unable to watch any portrayal of the crook without thinking of ‘A Head in the Polls’. This is my problem, not anyone else’s, I freely admit. But the whole endeavour has throw into sharp relief how good a comic adaption can be. Which is good, given the other recent Alan Moore adaption.

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Found in my FaceBook news feed (not in the right-hand advertising bar):

M&S Marketing Poll on Facebook

Marking for the social networking generation! Who clearly all shop at M&S. But wait, there seem to be some missing options:

  • Over-packaged, pretentiously named products
  • Makes Waitrose seem like good value
  • This is not just marketing, this is really annoying marketing

Do feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

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It’s good to be wrong.

A highly skilled person has disproved a long-held opinion of mine: that it’s impossible to put a transport category aircraft down on water (from flight speed) without massive structural failure.

As always, credit should also go to the hundreds of people who design things like APUs, ram-air turbines, hydraulic pressure reservoirs, and the other boring pieces that allow an A320 with both engines disabled to continue acting like an aeroplane instead of an aluminium brick.

I am guessing this might be the new textbook justification why the APU should be operable & running for takeoff and landing. Oh my yes.

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Quick! Someone on the Internet is wrong!

‘Insane’ 747 take-off:

No, actually, that’d just be … a completely normal, by-the-numbers 747 take-off. Possibly looking slightly dramatic due to foreshortening of the runway caused by the extreme camera zoom.

These heavier than air flying machines, I tell you, it’s unnatural! Witchcraft!

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Rome

Having now seen all of series one (years after everyone else, but never mind), I’m in full agreement that it’s awesome, despite the historical liberties taken. I don’t understand why the BBC haven’t promoted it more heavily, since their name is prominent in the credits, and presumably they stumped up a fair chunk of cash.

Favourite comedy moments: the grim raft, Titus Pullo making off with an accidently discovered wagon, and the the slave gift to Servila.

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Market Value

I’ve noted it before, but have recently been reminded, how good eBay (and by inference, I suppose, free markets) is at finding the ‘correct’ value for items. I’m referring specifically to items which are not (unduly) supply constrained, which is not the case for collectibles and the like – the items in question are generally mass-produced goods being resold, so excluding minor differences such as lost manuals or boxes, cosmetic scratches, and excluding actually broken items, the things being sold are almost identical.

The case in point is camera strobes (flash-guns) – I’m hoping to pickup a Speedlight of some kind, ideally an SB-800, but I figured an SB-600 or SB-28 would be perfectly adequate if I could find a ‘bargain’. Thanks to eBay, however, there are no bargains – the market value for the SB-800 is £190-200, and about £60-80 for the SB-28. There’s less SB-600s about, but it looks as if the price is about £140. Some items are entered at low starting bids, or with very high ‘buy it now’ prices, but the final selling price always seems to converge on the numbers above.

In one sense this is an obvious result – if other units are going for a given price, only a fool would bid even a couple of quid above that in any particular auction. Similarly, there’s enough buyers that any bargains get spotted, and bid on until the price reaches a fair one. What I find interesting is how much this mechanism relies on a whole bunch of assumptions about how the market operates – that all the units are really the same1, that there will always be more units to buy (and that supply will be evenly distributed over time), that more people will always want the units, that no one is buying up units to re-sell later, and so on.2

It’s interesting to consider how ever a minor distortion of the market would influence it – for example, if there was a notion that anyone was hoarding units, people would either walk away, or delay their purchases, or (if they had the capital) presumably start buying units elsewhere to sell when supply dries up. So, ho-hum, people with access to reserves of capital can easily distort markets, and small amounts of speculation can affect the entire market, as soon as buyers perceive that the current price is not based on the underlying commodity value.

I’ll stop now, before I get the urge to murder bankers.

  1. There are no ‘special’ units which work 20% better, for example []
  2. Being particularly cynical, it assumes no one is buying up the promise to buy large numbers of future units, then lending that promise to other people so they can sell it in the expectation of the price falling, before buying it back at a reduced price, and thus creating a plummeting price, despite the actually number of people who want to buy and sell units not actually changing. I am so glad I don’t work in banking, even writing the previous sentence made my brain ache. []
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Smooth

From passing the Edinburgh airport Hilton, to walking out of security air-side, a grand total of eight minutes. Online check-in and revamped security to thank, mostly. Once on the flight, KLM had made a clerical error and positioned the divider between business and economy incorrectly – 4F became the last business row instead of the first economy row, and the purser apologised for this, and then gave the entire row the business service for the flight. 

A still, crisp day meant stunning views over to Stirling, then Glasgow and the Borders, and on approach to Schiphol we were assigned runway 06 (instead of the dreaded 18R, and associated ten minute taxi), finishing our roll-out a stone’s throw from the allocated parking stand.

The only concern is that I’m accruing some vast karmic debt – otherwise, all seems good.

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Tang’s

Have now eaten twice at Tang’s restaurant at the top of Candlemaker row. It’s a place that used to be a Mexican, was Thai for a while, and is now Japanese. So far I’ve tried a Bento box, with excellent sushi (Maki and Nigiri) and chicken katsu, and more recently the yaki-udon, which was also delicious. All the staff so far have been friendly, at lunchtimes the service is quick, and most importantly the food seems pretty authentic. The melt-in-the-mouth tuna Nigiri was particularly good – none of the toughness I sometimes fear with tuna in the UK.

The List seem to agree.

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And worse still.

This is for my brother, and everyone else who really likes Top Gun.

Update: even more awesome:

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