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.

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.

C-SPAN Full Archives Now Online

Adam Thierer at The Technology Liberation Front shares the news. He goes on to remind us that C-SPAN is the result of a public-private partnership and in this instance undertook and completed the digitization at no further expense to the taxpayer. I would also offer up Public.Resource.org as an even more relevant proponent of this model, pushing for broader access to knowledge, one deal at a time.

(In the interest of disclosure, I am a volunteer member of the International Amateur Scan League which supports the FedFlix project.)

Full PopSci Archive Now Online, Free

Slashdot has the good news, that Popular Science magazine has scanned every issue they have ever produced. They are making them available through Google Books, embedded within their own web site. There are the occasional unobtrusive Google ads overlaid on the page scans as you search and flip through, meaning that PopSci and Google no doubt expect some decent ad traffic to sustain the otherwise free offering.

The scan quality is pretty good though I found the lack of a way to browse the issues by date a bit annoying. However, with over a century of content, search is probably going to be a way more useful means of locating articles of interest.

Free Audiobook Publisher Raising Funds

Cory shares the plea for support on BoingBoing. The sum LibriVox is seeking is modest, $20K, and their frugality doesn’t end their. This amount would be enough to secure some needed upgrades as well as to continue operation for three years. Not terribly surprising since this is an all volunteer project, the funds would go towards mostly hardware and hosting.

I think it is good value for dollar spent, especially since the audiobooks they produce are free and in the public domain. Their release rate is staggering, 75-100 a month, so even a $100 donation works out to a petty sum spread across the ever increasing catalog.

Project for Making Public Domain Music Friendlier

It is hardly surprising that Boing Boing’s developer, Dean Putney, has been working on a project to make discovery within the immense collection of live music at the Internet Archive easier. The story of his work, and that of his collaborators, is almost as interesting as the end result.

I am a little disappointed that Dewey Music doesn’t appear to be an open source project. The fact that it is a school project may have some bearing on that. It does have what appears to be a pretty comprehensive, REST-ful API, though, so could be used in a further mash up with other web applications.

The interface it sports does indeed seem like a pretty natural way to sieve through the Internet Archive to find performances of interest. Some of the categorization issues of the archive unfortunately bleed through. The genre list, for one, is immense as a result of quite a few one of and spurious entries. Still, it is a start and definitely a huge improvement over trying to filter the archive directly.

Open Source Media Player Partners with Device Maker

Despite its podcast support being perpetually broken, Songbird is a laudable effort to do for personal media what Firefox did for the web. The announcement of Philips selecting the software for use with its portable media players is a huge win. If the players in question support Ogg, a format Songbird handles very well, then this could be a key step to improving adoption and use of that unencumbered and open format.

Doctorow’s DIY Experiment, Asking Oracle to Let MySQL Go, and More

  • Hiccup over indexing, searching Google Voice messages
    The original story has been updated to clarify. The messages in question had been shared or posted publicly in some way by the account holders, this is not a breach of voice messages more generally. Google has responded by changing the crawler not to index these messages, leaving it to site owners to opt-in to have them indexed and available in searches.
  • New auto glass standard could affect wireless devices
    From the net neutrality squad mailing list, an inadvertent clash between environmental concerns and the ability to enjoy cell phones and satellite radio. So far, this metallicized glass is being considered in California but could see adoption in other Southern latitude states is successful.
  • Author’s thoughts on his free content work being re-published
    Via Gnat’s four short links post for today at O’Reilly. Mark Pilgrim explains very clearly that re-publishing without his explicit permission is a large part of the point in him choosing not only an open but a free as in free software license for his book. Important to note that this competitive version only came after his publisher, APress, already had many years to profit from their version alone.
  • Cory’s DIY experiment, a print-on-demand short fiction anthology
    I will admit to some insider knowledge of Cory’s plans and relief that he is finally publicizing parts of what is a very ambition business plan. There is much here that should be familiar by now due to similar experiments by other creatives, most notably Trent Reznor. I would expect Cory to also share what hard date he is able to collect after the fact to give us as complete a case study as possible. Oh and I must start saving my pennies for one of the hand bound editions.
  • Monty urges Oracle to free MySQL
    At Ars, Ryan Paul explains not only Monty’s remarks but urging by the EC for Oracle to sell of the open source database. I tend to agree more with Matt Asay in this instance, that forcing the divestment may chill corporate backing and ownership of open source projects. I think there is a more common third way, partnerships through foundations, that Asay doesn’t consider. But I take his meaning and thing it is a sound bit of caution when thinking through this story.
  • Big content backs down on anti-spyware provisions
    Professor Geist has the good news following on from his earlier posting about rights holders proposing exceptions to the tabled anti-spyware, anti-spam bill that would largely dilute its effectiveness.
  • AP amends its countersuit against Shepard Fairey
    Xeni follows up on BoingBoing with what I think we can all agree is inevitable. Again, while the fair use merits may be salvageable in the case, the extra liability he has invited may erode his will and ability to see those remaining positive aspects through.
  • Barnes and Noble e-book reader launches today
    RWW has the pertinent details, as do many other sites. It seems to be an improvement over the Kindle, in terms of consumer freedoms, but still largely hobbled. Personally, I won’t touch it as long as AT&T is the carrier but also a worry is that B&N still uses cumbersome DRM. They do support more open and standard formats, though, most notably ePub but these do not appear to be the formats used for their commercial offerings.