Want More Pay-What-You-Want Goodness? Try “Nikki and the Robots”

What strikes me about the Humble Bundles so far is that not only do you get a fair deal, in terms of price and being treated like a grown adult by not crippling the various media on offer with DRM, but the content itself is generally well above average. In the case of the Humble Bundles, I think credit goes to the various editors and curators who have put the packages together. However, there may be some correlation between the choice to use this business model and incredibly talented and creative folks.

Case in point: Nikki and the Robots.

A listener of mine who has been working on this game emailed me right as the Humble eBook Bundle was climbing towards its staggering $1.2M peak. Right away, the similarities are clear. The Humble Indie Bundles that contain video games have all been cross platform, like Nikki, as well as sporting the pay what you want model and foregoing the burdens of DRM, also like Nikki.

The studio behind this game, Joyride Labs, has gone further. There is a full, playable version you can snag for free. And it is available under an open source license (some of the Humble Bundle games have been openl licensed as a condition of meeting sales targets.) The free version comes with a level editor and there are a good number of sample and contributed levels that demonstrate the various charms of the game. What you get if you set your price and buy the story episode is a narrative mode that completes the full on nostalgia this game brings for 8-bit platformers. While there is currently only one story episode so far, more are promised and buying the first episode nets you all the future ones at no additional cost.

So what about the game itself? The pixel art is an unmistakable and loving homage to Nikki’s earliest ancestors. Even the character design and overall look and feel are a whimsical throwback to games without hugely elaborate backstories, but tantalizing hints about why the characters throw themselves around their frenetic, brightly colored 2D worlds.

Don’t let the graphic design fool you. Gameplay is smooth, convincing and challenging in a way that belies the vintage look, revealing deep roots in realistic physics models and an ethos in puzzle design clearly meant to inspire the player to new heights, often literally, through near impossible challenges and the amazing sense of accomplishment that comes of just nearly squeaking through to toggle the last switch, to collect the last battery. The titular robots add a twist that was a later development for the platformer genre as a whole but one that when used well extends the playability and the enjoyment. It is deployed to excellent effect in Nikki, offering the player at various points throughout each level, the ability to take control of one or more robots, the different abilities of each adding a subtle and engaging variation on the game play that also more fully shows off the Chipmunk physics engine.

My sole complaint as a long time gamer who has most recently been taken with gaming on my phone and tablet is the lack of an Android port. That is really a minor drawback as the game is fun, beautiful and engaging enough on any of the OSes on which it does run to draw me back to my various Linux machines to tease out a little more of the well crafted story and enjoy the original and addictive soundtrack.

Of course, with a free to play option, you certainly don’t have to take my word for it alone. Go on, download it and let me know what you think; better yet let me know if you agree its worth kicking in to see what episode 2 may hold in store or what other wonderful projects Joyride Labs may yet undertake.

feeds | grep links > Kickstarter for Interactive Fiction, Microsoft Response to Open Kinect, Another Computer Built in Minecraft, and More

feeds | grep links > More on CC and the CBC, the Public Domain Mark, and More

  • More information on why the CBC cannot use CC licensed music
    Mike Masnick at Techdirt has done a bit more digging, arriving at an explanation for why the CBC stopped using CC licensed music in its podcasts. The problem arises from the non-commercial clause which is quite common with these otherwise free licenses. Many of the radio programs are available through secondary and tertiary distribution platforms with arrangements, like pre-roll ads, that would violate the non-commercial requirement. Having run afoul of this same clause, I concur with Masnick that this explanation makes more sense than the ones offered earlier on as the story unfolded.
  • Creative Commons on CBC and non-commercial licenses, Creative Commons
  • Gait recognition for smart phones, Slashdot
  • Duke Nukem Forever public demo coming next year, Wired
  • CC launches the Public Domain Mark
    This new tool from the Creative Commons is distinct from CC-0, their public domain dedication. The mark is used to help clearly identify works already free of copyright. This is a timely release given the report from the Library of Congress about the problems around preserving audio recordings because of how long it takes for works to devolve into the public domain. Using the mark and its associated deed could greatly ease the job of archivists, and the software they use, where there is already certainty about the status of works.

feeds | grep links > Firefox Mobile Beta, Text Adventures on E-Readers, No CC Music at the CBC, and More

  • Firefox 4 beta for mobile devices
    Ryan Paul at Ars Technica has a good run down of both improvements in the latest release of Fennec, now just simply referred to as Firefox 4, as well as the remaining challenges for the mobile version of Mozilla’s browser to stack up well against other mobile browsers. Still trying to get my hands on 4-5 inch Android MID for, among other things, testing these mobile builds my own self.
  • Interactive fiction on an e-reader
    Tim Carmody at Wired provides what I think is the most compelling reason to get a dedicated e-reader yet, the ability hacked together by some gamers to play interactive fiction. Carmody calls out the one downer that occurred to me too, the pain of entering text on some of these devices. All the same, it definitely is a good match in terms of display capabilities and processing power. Well, and it’s intensely nerdy fun.
  • Caught spying, FBI wants its bug back, Wired
  • Software evolution storylines, inspired by xkcd, Slashdot
  • CBC bans use of Creative Commons music on podcasts
    Michael Geist links directly to the discussion in the comments at the Spark site. He also explains that it is a consequence of some collective agreement with talent agencies. It is easy to speculate that this is specifically targeting CC but I suspect that it may be mere boiler plate language that includes exclusivity as part of the deal which would preclude any other licenses, not just CC. Still, how quickly do you think the parties involved might backpedal?
  • A step closer to workable brain-computer interfaces, Technology Review

Mozilla Labs Gaming Announces First Competition

I wrote about the new gaming initiative from Mozilla Labs a little while ago when it launched. Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb notes the announcement by that project of its first gaming competition.

Mozilla, home of the popular Firefox browser, has announced a new effort to challenge the dominance of Adobe Flash in the casual gaming market. Called Game On 2010, the effort is an international competition that will highlight “games built, delivered and played on the open Web and the browser.” The crux of the issue is no Flash allowed.

The contest will run between now and January 11th of next year. Marshall notes there is skepticism that HTML5 and related technologies are quite to the level needed to take on Flash directly. He, at least, seems game to see what the development community might come up with.

I think the pump is definitely well primed. I noodled around with several of the JS1K entries from that contest I linked to yesterday. If some addictively fun games can be written in less than a kilobyte of JavaScript, imagine what will come of Mozilla’s contest regardless of how the entries stack up to Flash. I also think efforts like these will keep pushing newer killer apps into the conscious of users such that demand for advanced, open standards will only grow to the benefit of all.

Mozilla Takes Aim at Flash-based Casual Games, ReadWriteWeb

Mozilla Launches Gaming Initiative

As Adrianne Jeffries at ReadWriteWeb explains the new project, Mozilla Labs Gaming, is meant to encourage developers to use the new technologies being built into modern browsers both to highlight those capabilities and capitalize in the growing interest in casual and social games. The intersection makes a great deal of interest and is a more productive notion than the usual anti-Flash sentiments offered when discussing HTML5, CSS3 and other newer standards.

“Modern Open Web technologies introduced a complete stack of technologies such as Open Video, audio, WebGL, touch events, device orientation, geo location, and fast JavaScript engines which make it possible to build complex (and not so complex) games on the Web,” Mozilla Labs wrote on its blog. “With these technologies being delivered through modern browsers today, the time is ripe for pushing the platform. And what better way than through games?”

The new efforts reinforces why Firefox is still my favorite browser despite market share gains made by Chrome. Mozilla is as dedicated to the broader space of open web standards as it is to its own particular entrants. Driving developer adoption of these technologies forces all browser makers to evolve and innovate ensuring that users get the best experience of the web regardless of what software they use.

Mozilla Hopes Web Games Will Remind Us That Browsers Are Still Awesome, ReadWriteWeb

feeds | grep links > Self Replicating MakerBot, AI Predicting Manhole Explosions, Mousing without the Mouse, and More

  • Self replicating MakerBot
    Via Nat’s Four Short Links on O’Reilly Radar. As he notes, highly appropriate as MakerBot started as a modified RepRap which was all about being self reproducible.
  • AI used to predict manhole explosions in NYC
    I had no idea the scale of this problem was worth harnessing machine learning to tackle but according to Slashdot, apparently it is. It sounds to me like a pretty big multivariate analysis depending on pretty laboriously collected data and observations from the field. Regardless of the risk of a heavy, iron manhole cover being ejected in a gout of flame and gas, the idea to use an AI to help stay on top of the mammoth maintenance challenge for a city as old as New York greatly appeals to me.
  • NetApp threatens sellers of appliances running ZFS
    What the Slashdot summary glosses over but the linked articles make a bit more clear is that there is a history to these complaints to goes back a ways. The same company apparently repeatedly threatened Sun for much the same reason that they are now threatening NAS maker Coraid. I find it hard to credit that there isn’t a less fraught file system offering similar capabilities originating more directly from the FLOSS world.
  • Mousing without a mouse
    Priya Ganapati describes an MIT project from the creator of Sixth Sense, Pranav Mistry. It definitely seems to be strongly related, using commodity hardware to track your mousing hand as you pantomime the gestures you’ve become used to in order to drive your computer without actually needing a mouse. Given the rate at which scroll wheels get gummed up, I would gladly invest many times more than the $20 figure quoted to never have to clean any part of a mouse ever again.
  • Incremental update to OLPC XO to include multitouch screen
    Via Hacker News.
  • Skype’s encryption is partially reverse engineered
  • Fan remake of Ultima VI released
  • Blizzard backs down on requiring real names in its forums

Another Pay-What-You-Will Experiment Succeeds

Slashdot has the news of the ultimate success of a bundle of games offered by indie game maker, Wolfire, including several popular titles from other developers too. Asking that you pay what you felt the bundle is worth and offering to share proceeds with either or both of EFF and Child’s Play, the experiment has brought in a million dollars, a soft goal Wolfire had set at the beginning.

As a reward for helping reach this goal, the deal gets even better. Four out of the six games (the bundle original included five but added another one shortly after starting) will have their source code released. It is also worth noting that all of the games included are DRM free and run on Linux, Mac and Windows.

I see successes like these as the most compelling rebuttal of the anti-piracy rhetoric put forward by many distributors. If piracy and profit were zero sum, it would be impossible to explain how many of these experiments turn out so successfully. In this case, I think the charity component, the time limit and the amazing initial reaction in the infosphere contributed much, giving us some more data to consider in how to work to achieve repeated success with pay-as-you-will offers.

Cory Doctorow’s Latest, “For the Win”, Launches Today

Long time listeners and readers know I am a huge fan of Cory Doctorow’s writings, both fiction and non-fiction. I am thrilled that his latest novel, “For the Win“, is out today. I was lucky enough to get an advanced reader copy and can definitely recommend the book highly for those that enjoyed Cory’s previous young adult novel, “Little Brother“.

I would say without hesitation that I enjoyed “For the Win” even more than “Little Brother”. I dug the ideas explored in the book more than I expected–organizing labor, virtual economies, the effects of online games on globalization and youth culture. The dialectic is very well woven into the stories of all the characters, you rarely if ever feel like you are receiving an info dump. The only thing I suspect some people may not like, depending on their tastes, is that the narrative is shared across the points of view of several characters. I don’t mind that, personally, but I have friends who do. For the younger readers, there is a bit of violence but it isn’t gratuitous and should be fine for teen aged readers.

I read my copy during the big blizzard earlier this year, when we had no power for a few days and no heat. It thoroughly kept my mind off of a very worrying situation and held up to non-stop reading over the course of a few days. Not many books would have held my interest well enough to read pretty much continuously like that, “For the Win” definitely did.

Of course, as with all of Cory’s books, you can download a free electronic copy of the book, in a number of formats, and see for yourself if you enjoy it enough to pick up a print edition. I love that this time out he included my favorite format, ePub. That format is a fan conversion and is made possible by the liberal license Cory uses. You can remix or convert the book any which way you like as long as you share your changes and don’t charge for the end result.

As with “Little Brother”, Cory is working with educators and librarians to get this book into the hands of kids. There are more details on how you can help with that effort at the book’s web site. You’ll also find a link to the book tour that is kicking off this week. I encourage you to go out and see Cory if he’s coming to your town. He’s a dynamic and engaging speaker and reader plus you can pick up a signed copy of the book if you are a fan.

Lastly, I will be interviewing Cory while he’s on the book tour specifically to dig into various aspects of the book and the tropes he explores in it. If you have a relevant question you’d like me to pose, send it to me before Thursday the 13th and I’ll include as many of your questions as time allows. That interview should go out next week, Wednesday the 19th.

Music Inspired by a Computer Game, Portland Backs Open Data, and More

  • Zork rock anthem
    Thanks, Cory, for sharing this ladleful of awesome sauce. Not only is this a great bit of very listenable nerd core, it works on a whole other level: the lyrics are a walk through of the original Zork text adventure game.
  • Mozilla also objects to Google Chrome Frame plugin
    As The Register explains, VP of Engineering Mike Shaver offers some more considered technical arguments and Mozilla chief lizard wrangler, Mitchell Baker. The issue, in a nutshell, is that the plugin silos security and other data on a site by site basis and can have a net effect of eroding the safety of the browser and definitely will lead to consumer confusion.
  • UK consultation on proposed three strikes rule closes
    The Open Rights Group has a good recap not only of the proceeding but the hard work they are doing to provided well informed, substantiated critique of the proposal.
  • Horrifying details of proposed UK border plan
    Am I missing something? I understand why the scientists are objecting to the methods being proposed as they are flawed, like automated facial recognition and other sorts of fuzzy techniques often are. But what about the very idea, regardless of the means, of conditioning access to the country based on heritage and ancestral origin? This seems like a notion rife for a while different degree and kind of abuse.
  • City of Portland backs open, structured data
    What a coup! As RWW points out, Portland is the latest in an early trend in open up its data and in this instance seems to be banking on the fact that it has a very strong local software industry.