Monthly Archives: March 2010

Possible Use For iPad?

I’m not getting one, but I have to say these iPads are pretty intriguing, and I’d love to play around on one. Wil Wheaton has found a possible case of buying one after initial scepticism – board games. Complex board games like Car Wars and Arkham Horror. And reading that post, and the comments, made me think of the movie Big, with Elizabeth Perkins and Tom Hanks. Towards the end of the movie, Hanks’ and Perkins’ characters make a presentation about an “electronic comic book”:

JOSH
You see it won’t be like these where you just follow the story along. You would actually make a whole different story appear just by pressing these buttons.

SUSAN
An electronic comic book? That’s amazing!

JOSH
Yeah. An electric comic book. It’s gonna be different every time.

SUSAN
This is incredible. You’re brilliant–you know that?

JOSH
If you like one you could see it, you know, over and over and over  again.

SUSAN
You’re wonderful.

JOSH
You really like it?…You think Mac will like it? You know, what we could do…We could do like sports comics… or like if you’re going to steal second or something like that…You’d have sports books… baseball, football…really, it works with almost any sport there is. Hockey!

Later on they give a presentation which goes into more detail, including interchangable “disks” with new stories on them.

JOSH
There’s this flat screen inside with pictures on it and you read it. And when you get down to the bottom you have to make a choice of what the character’s going to do… Like if he going to go in and fight the dragon then you have to push one of the buttons.

SUSAN
See, there’s a computer chip inside which stores the choices, so when
you reach the end of the page, you decide where the story goes. That’s
the point.

MR. M
Terrific Susan.

SUSAN
A kid makes his own decision.

MR. M
This is really possible?

SUSAN
Yeah. In fact, it’s a very simple program. Isn’t that right?

MAN
So what happens when you run out of choices?

SUSAN
Well, that’s the great thing. You can just sell different adventures. Just pop in a new disk and you get a whole new set of options.

MAN
We could market this on a comic book rack.

MR. M
How much would the unit cost?

SUSAN
Well, our initial figure is around… around $7.00, with a retail cost of around $18.95.

PAUL
You expect a kid to pay $19.00 for a comic book?

Only the first time, you racketball-playing dick, Paul. The disks would be a lot cheaper, and you could have serial stories, new heroes, the possibilities are literally (OK not really) endless!

Talking of Big, Cassie and I like the bit when he calls his Mom, pretending to be his own kidnapper, to say he’s safe and will be coming home soon. She forces the “kidnapper” to sing the song “I used to sing to him when he was a little boy” to prove he’s safe.

Oh, I got it! I got it! “Memories, like the corner of my mind. Misty water color memories, of the way we werrrrrrrrrre. Scattered  pic-tures…”

The Choose Your Own Adventure books from Bantam weren’t a big success in the UK, but Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy books certainly were, from the classic (and infuriating) Warlock of Firetop Mountain to the stranger Sword of the Samurai and more complex Starship Traveller. I had a few of these, and they were well-thumbed and covered in rubbed-out pencil marks. I also had a few of Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf books, which had a much more (IMHO) immersive story and better (and more creepy) artwork. These were similarly thumbed and marked, so in the end I got my Dad to photocopy the score page, so I could keep the pages free of scribbles.

Searching around, I find that the series is now freely available to download, or even play online, complete with links between pages, and all the beautiful artwork. You can also view an SVG flowchart of the pages! The HTML version looks like an ideal candidate for iPad play – but you still have to maintain your own scores and inventory, which would be a pain. Easy to implement though, I guess.

It looks like there would be a range of complexity for electronic comic books, from a simple text document with built-in choices, to added features like hit points and skill levels, item inventories and magic spells. It would be a blurred line between that and the old text adventures like Zork, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and, er, Ship of Doom. But rather than having to type in directions, like simple VERB NOUN stuff, or the more flexible Level 9 parser as used in my old favorite The Saga of Erik The Viking, it would be preferable to use on screen buttons. But the text parsers could allow a huge variety of commands, whereas a button interface would be limited. You could just display the set of commands possible at a particular moment, but that would make the game a case of just trying all the available possibilities, instead of thinking around a problem. I suppose it depends on how good the on-screen keyboard is.

Of course, it goes without saying that a Linux-based tablet would be more open, flexible and probably cheaper, and would allow all sorts of experimentation along these lines without being forced through the Checkpoint Charlie of Apple’s walled garden. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?

This should be interesting.

I Thought I Was The Bally Table King

Cassie’s company had a team get-together at the Pacific Pinball Museum at Lucky JuJu in Alameda, and I was able to go along a bit later, after all the speeches, eat some pizza, drink a beer, and play some pinball.

After leaving work I walked to the aptly-named Ferry Building, which is a 15-minute walk. The main part of the building is now a very nice bustling market, with local producers and deli counters lining up to sell you 100 varieties of mushroom and “tasty salted pig parts“, and behind it are the ferry gangways. I joined a pleasantly large number of commuters on the San Francisco-Alameda Ferry, and took the 20-minute trip to the island. The trip itself (on the same kind of catamaran boat that took us to Catalina this time last year) is not that exciting, apart from going under the western span of the Bay Bridge, but Alameda is an interesting place. I have a couple of friends there, and they rave about how nice it is, with its lower rents, high concentration of Victorians, and sense of being just a step away from the condensed city life of San Francisco. Other people I’ve met have said that moving to the East Bay is “quitting”, but if that means quitting caring so desperately what people think of you, and not being one of the self-elected cool kids, then sign me up. Anyway.

After Cassie talked in from the bus, she introduced me to a few of her colleagues, who’d been there since 3 and were thoroughly enjoying the beer and pizza, and were betting money on the more unique games.
I played on the following machines.

  • Captain Fantastic, based on the scene from Tommy where he plays against the Pinball Champ, Elton John*.
  • Orbitor 1, the uniquely strange, and incredibly rare machine with a sculpted transparent field which gives the sense of gravity pulling the ball towards and around the bumpers. Cool synthesized voice as well.
  • The Wizard, another one based on Tommy. Gawd knows why that movie has all these machines based on it. Good rendition of Anne Marget on the back glass.
  • Hang-Glider, which features the usual bikini beauties, this time lusting after a guy on a kite.
  • Xenon, with the sexy electronic voice giving it some.
  • A mechanical submarine torpedo game, with periscope sights.
  • A classic rifle shooting game with targets that flipped back and forth as you shot them.

I was a little disappointed they didn’t have the mechanical Killer Shark game I used to play as a kid, which you can see in the film Jaws. Only a bit though, because they had so many cool machines, and not a videogame in sight! Also really nice to meet Cassie’s colleagues, who all seem a fine bunch.

* If you watch the video, you can see “the digit counters fall” as Tommy scores 1000, 2000, 3000 points! A few people observed that the old machines gave you much lower scores. I suppose it was because the mechanical counters were more expensive and complex, so only using 4 or 5 was desirable. These were replaced with 7-segment displays, which guess were a lot cheaper, so you could reward players with 6 or 7 digit scores. The modern dot-matrix displays can show as many digits as you can cram onto them, and that and the invention of score multipliers, super bonusses, and other crazy scoring stuff, gives you the modern multi-million scores. It can be a bit frustrating to play a pinball machine and get a score of 17 million, only to find that the current high score stands at 193,535,777 by someone called “DIK”.