Archive for January, 2005

Favorite use of flickr

Mullet FamilyI’ve been a little light with the posting lately (well, more than usual), but I’ve been working on a cool web-based project that will soon be ready for a public pre-alpha release. More details on that later.

For now, my new favorite use of Flickr:

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“Wikipedia Edit Count” Bookmarklet

An interesting series of posts over at Many-to-Many have been discussing Wikipedia and its relative merits as compared to traditional encyclopedias. Acting on the suggestion that the number of times a particular Wikipedia article has been edited is an indiciator of how reliable the information in that article might be, Clay Shirky demonstrated a script that aggregates that metadata and displays it prominently on the article. He also put out a call to convert that script into a bookmarklet. I find the idea intriguing, I have answered the call with this new bookmarklet.

Since the bookmarklet actually makes a behind-the-scenes HTTP call to wikipedia, it can be a little slow depending on the site’s response time. Maybe I’ll add some kind of “waiting…” indicator in the next rev, but for now, just hold on for a few seconds and you should see the information show up near the top of the screen.

It hasn’t yet been hammered in terms of testing, but it works for me in Firefox, Camino, and Safari on a Mac (sorry, no IE), and the numbers agree with those Clay’s script. Let me know via comments if it works for you if you try it out in any other browsers, or if you have any trouble.

To use, drag the link below onto your bookmarks or your bookmark toolbar. Then navigate to any normal Wikipedia article and click on it.

Wikipedia Edit Count

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Interactive Fiction: Words vs. Pictures

I love interactive fiction, or “IF” for the acronymically inclined. Or “text adventure” games if you’re less familiar with the Infocom of the 1980s. IF as a genre, fundamentally unchanged for more than twenty years, evolved in a world of gaming where graphics were non-existent and words were the sole medium of expression. The game described locations, objects, and actions in text, and the player controlled the story’s protagonist by typing commands in English (or any other natural language in which the story was written). As a player, you had to rely on your imagination to fill in the gaps.

In the time since, technology has allowed designers to create games that realize their visual ideals. And many of these games have captivating stories and excellent puzzles, just like good IF games. And there are entirely different styles of games whose pure entertainment value is graphics-based, like a first-person shooter or even a simple puzzle game like Tetris. And that’s great! But it’s also different, and IF still has something to offer today.

I like to think of the relationship between IF and popular modern games as analogous to the relationship between books and movies. It’s not much of a stretch. It’s words versus pictures. Both words and pictures have their place, both can be entertaining, educational, and otherwise enriching. But I personally prefer words.

If you’re a fan of words like me and you’ve never played interactive fiction, or perhaps if you played Infocom’s Zork back in the 80s and remember it fondly, you might be surprised to learn that the medium is far from extinct. An active hobbyist community continues to produce new titles, and as a result IF has grown tremendously, both technically (in terms of language parser sophistication, availability of IF writing/development tools, etc.) and as an art form. Now there are countless modern IF titles currently available for free, representing an amazing array of genres and story-telling styles. Erstwhile players of old-style text adventure games might, for instance, notice the trend toward emphasis on a game’s plot and story-telling as opposed to disjointed puzzle solving. That’s a severe generalization, as classic puzzle games are also certainly still developed — I just want to emphasize that the diversity of titles now available surpasses anything imagined in IF’s “heyday” of twenty plus years ago.

Playing them allows me to simultaneously experience three of my favorite things: reading, puzzle solving, and playing games (or four if I happen to play IF while eating peanut butter!). If you also enjoy the art of the crafted sentence, do yourself a favor and read this Beginner’s Guide to Interactive Fiction. It may or may not be your cup of tea, but it has to be nice to know that people are telling stories in interesting new ways.

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