Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Gaming Miracle

It doesn't even come to your mind as a possibility for you to play a single player game with another person at the same time. Definitely not 100 or 1,000 or 100,000. This is, at a basic level, what Twitchplayspokemon (TPP) was: A (mostly) collaborative effort of thousands of people to play the single player game of Pokemon together, at the same time.

The event started on February 12, 2014 with Pokemon Red version, and the game was completed after a little longer than 16 days of continuous gameplay. Since then many other games have been played, but only Pokemon titles have been played to completion. At this time, Pokemon Omega Ruby version is nearing completion.

EDIT: Pokémon Omega Ruby has finished, and TPP is going to play Pokémon Battle Revolution until the anniversary of TPP Red.

The 24/7 stream, held at twitch.tv/twitchplayspokemon, was created by an anonymous Australian programmer simply known as "The Streamer" under the guise of a social experiment, although their words on that matter are "It’s just a fancy way of saying 'I want to see what happens.'" Originally, the game was controlled with chat based inputs (a, start, down, etc.) which were detected by an IRC bot which then sent them to a Game Boy emulator as a button input. The stream hit a roadblock after reaching the point in the series where game system used by the games was the Nintendo 3DS, for which no emulator exists. This problem was taken care of by reddit user dekuNukem and allowed TPP to continue playing games without any sort of delay. The device potentially allows TPP to play any other 3DS and DS games without any emulator difficulties such as lag, skips, and significantly fewer crashes. It also allows TPP to participate in online gameplay.

The stream has experienced a peak concurrent viewership of 120,379 people, and had a level of about 10% participation throughout its times of extraordinarily high viewership - which has led to unexpected and unprecedented stress on Twitch's servers. TPP achieved the world record for the most participants in a single player game: 1,165,140 unique players from February 16 to March 1 for the playing of Pokemon Red version. In that time, the stream had also reached 36 million unique views.

For the first six days of Pokemon Red, all inputs were allowed through the gates to do cause the character (Red) to do whatever chance decides he should do, with each command dealing with ~30 second delay. The nature of this system is the cause of the amazing popularity of the stream, but also created many headaches among players as it made trivial tasks for a single player immensely difficult as a crowd. The most famous example is spending almost an entire day trying to walk past a single ledge. The chaotic nature of the gameplay also can undo hours, or even days, of work in just seconds, such an event was in Pokemon Red, where the disorganized style of gameplay resulted in releasing (Effectively deleting permanently) 12 pokemon. This was known as Bloody Sunday.


These sort of events remained expected until the players hit their first major roadblock: A maze with spinning tiles known as the Rocket Hideout.
Players stuck in Rocket Hideout

At this point a change was deemed necessary, so the streamer implemented a new mode named Democracy, to compliment the former mode 'Anarchy.' With the exception of an initial bug with Democracy mode, which spawned what is known as the Start9 riot(Later in post), players are able to vote for which mode they wish to play in by inputting either Anarchy or Democracy into the chat, just like a normal command.
Rocket Hideout after the implementation of Democracy mode
Democracy mode required a super-majority vote to initiate and, as expected, only the most voted for command was pressed. After each command, a new voting window begins to allow another 10 seconds or so for the next button press to be decided. The situation of democracy mode changes for every future game:
  • Pokemon Crystal: Begins only every hour and ends when voted out by a majority.
  • Pokemon Emerald/Omega Ruby: Nonexistent until the players reached the first of two mazes. The mode acted the same as it did in Crystal.
  • Pokemon FireRed: Nonexistent until the Rocket Hideout, 70 minute wait time until it starts, then can be voted out.
  • Pokemon Platinum: None
  • Pokemon Heartgold: Nonexistent until Morty's Gym
  • Pokemon Black: None
  • Pokemon Black 2: None
  • Pokemon X: None
  • Pokemon Conquest: Entirely in Democracy mode


Start9 Riot
While it would seem like the implementation of democracy mode would be helpful to the players, many held a level of disdain for it.

The initial implementation of democracy mode had a bug that made it seem as though it completely removed the original method of gameplay, so for a half an hour players and moderators revolted against the streamer by mass voting for the command "Start9" which causes 9 sequential presses of the start button, the button that brings up the in-game menu. In the usual anarchy mode, many players had taken to pressing the start button to impede game progress, which was a noted annoyance for many players. The Start9 riot is interesting because the majority of players had joined together to vote using democracy to specifically try and bring back the chaos of anarchy.

The Start9 Riot lasted in an effective form for only 30 minutes, but even after the bug was fixed, many players still tried to keep the protest going because of their belief that the new Democracy mode ruined the integrity of the stream. (You can see remnant Start9 votes in an earlier screenshot)

Psychology

The stream is controlled using the chat functionality provided by Twitch, and as such, it gives the players a way to talk, plan, and strategize alongside their inputs. Of course this would be impossible due to the endless flow of inputs flushing away any attempts at conversation, so some programmers wrote scripts to block those sort of messages from appearing on their screens and more effectively communicate.

The frequent pressing of the start button consistently leads to players getting lost within the menu categories, such as the PokeDex and item bag. Which is interpreted as the character always absentmindedly doing things like listening to the call of the starter he never chose, staring at his own picture and badges, saving the game, and most importantly: Consulting the Helix Fossil.

When a player tries to use an item in the  bag that has no function at the present moment, the game responds with the message "OAK: [Player Name], this isn't the time to use that!" and that's that. However, since RED just keeps on trying, the players have interpreted it as him seeking divine guidance from the items in his bag. Originally, RED sought guidance from items such as a golden nugget, a moon stone, and a cruise ticket (S.S. Ticket), but former two of those items did not have the staying power of the S.S. Ticket due to it being a Key Item and impossible to discard (Toss). This led led to the S.S. Ticket becoming the first medium of RED's deity, due to it going to the top of the list of items in the item bag.

Future struggles with the PC boxes and the like stored away the S.S. Ticket and led to the prevalence of the Helix Fossil for most of the rest of the run through the game. The function of the Helix Fossil in game is to resurrect an ancient pokemon called Omanyte, which is based on an ammonite. The function of the Helix Fossil according to the players is to give RED guidance on what he should do next. The players made a great effort to keep the Helix Fossil in the bag whenever it was lost inside of the PC and to eventually revive their "God." A simple example of the prevalence of this meme is how it has drastically changed the dynamic of a google image search: Before After, or just search Lord Helix, as that's what he's called, you'll see enough to understand.

The story of the Helix Fossil doesn't stop right there. Its purpose extends to have value in every aspect at every point in the playthrough. From banishing the evil Flareon to having his messiah aid RED in his journey. The Helix Fossil is indisputably the most important factor in the story writing of Twitchplayspokemon fans.

The most popular purpose of Lord Helix was come up with some time after the creation of Democracy mode. It's popularized that Lord Helix is the maintainer of Anarchy mode and is the "Good" deity, who puts RED through tests to prove his worth and carry his message, while his counterpart, Lord Dome, is the ruler of Democracy mode and is the "Evil" deity who caused Bloody Sunday as an effort to destroy RED before he can finish his mission. There is also a mediator between the two, Lord Amber, who seeks a balance between the two and is a greater Good.

The rising popularity of these ideals divided players into sects that, with the exception of the Amberists, strongly hated each other and endlessly argue with each other over how things should be run. Strong believing Helixists propose that Anarchy was the original system and as such is the only true way to play the game while arguing that anybody who wishes to use Democracy mode to accomplish a task is cheating and abusing their power. Domists propose that Democracy mode is truer to how Pokemon is meant to be played and that a slower, more methodical playstyle would be more enjoyable, also that spending all this time in Anarchy mode might feel like progress, but overall, "it's going nowhere fast." The inclusion of the voting slider, rather than giving the players a civil way to fight for their opinions, has spawned argument after argument.

This simple difference of opinion did not end after the completion of the first game, but continues to be a topic that stirs up anger among members of the community. What's important here is that the inclusion of the idea of gods gave the players something to blame or explain inexplicable events on. The gods were created by the players themselves (And also killed by the players in Crystal)


The entire experience of watching all the players output of art, stories, and statistics, or just watching the game while observing players shout expletives at each other is entirely enjoyable and totally unique and is worth checking out. Now that the stream has decreased viewership it's become more civil and comfortable for a casual viewer. When the stream isn't focused on beating a game, players can relax by playing random games the streamer loads up or placing bets on the outcome of Pokemon Stadium/Battle Revolution matches.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Chromebook

Note: The following information is written with an opinionated slant, and that may make you feel as though you might not want to take it 100% seriously. I think you should anyways, but do what you will.

One day, two of my younger siblings came home excited with a laptop they had checked out from the school library to do homework on (With plans of playing online games). Firstly, I was not aware the middle schools did this sort of thing, but since they apparently do, I was secondly concerned with how, with all the complaints about budgets, they can afford to buy laptops for their students.

To answer my question, it turns out the laptop was a budget option: a Chromebook, by Google, meaning it has Chrome OS. For those unaware, Chrome OS is advertised as related to standard operating system like Windows or OSX, but is heavily reliant on cloud computing; in this case it's powered by Google. On top of that, it's heavily reliant on Google.

The OS is simple and intuitive, seeing as it is basically a glorified  web browser (Google Chrome), which is a plus for many people who don't need a computer to do anything special beyond scrolling through social media sites and writing papers. The problem comes in when you need the computer to do more. There is a very limited selection of apps, and a large number of them do not work without an Internet connection. On the bright side, more and more apps are becoming able to work without an Internet connection - With a noticeable drop in performance due to cutting out the cloud from cloud computing. However, this is better than the beginnings when the Chromebook became a useless slab of metal when the Internet was revoked. On top of that, a good number of Chromebooks now also have an option to buy a 3G data plan to support it.

The Chromebook has a major drawback. Its limited resources (such as RAM and total processing power) cause it to hang up and drag through tasks required of it (And you can guess, the effect is compounded once you're disconnected from the Internet). If you buy the most budget option, you can definitely count on strange disappearing web pages that need to reload and 'Things you swear you clicked on' doing absolutely nothing until you stop doing anything for several seconds. You should also know (Especially if you're somebody who fears the cloud) that all of your documents and files are stored in the cloud, but you can have a local version if you use an SD card. Finally, there's the battery. Don't think it's like a tablet because it's not like a laptop. If nothing else, its battery acts like a laptop. You aren't going to get a Chromebook to run for an entire day without a plug or heavily conserving, it just won't happen, so don't think about it.

As if trying to create an Internet monopoly wasn't enough, Chromebook users are forced to use Google This and Google That as well as Google Everything Else. To sync photos, videos, or with a phone, use Google Drive (Sorry iPhone), to print something, use Google Cloud Print, to video chat - forget Skype - you have to use Google Hangouts. You can't just "Plug in" a device into a Chromebook and expect it to work, because it won't.

The last thing I thought I'd say is you cannot forget that a Chromebook is just a browser. It's not really for a  power user, and in some cases it's not really for a casual user. If you really like all off Google's software (Docs, Slides, Hangouts, etc.) then a Chromebook is a good match. In fact, there's even Chromebook friendly versions of Microsoft's and Apple's suite of programs. But through and through, I don't think a Chromebook can really compete with a "real" laptop, except for its price.

Find Something to Write About

I've thought about what I'm to write about and haven't yet come to a conclusion. My mind seems to fancy the idea of just writing about whatever I'm interested in that millisecond. A topic that I'm interested in focusing on, however, is technology - like the weird pages I stumbled upon when I was trying to find out if the iPad Air 2 is going to have 2 GB of RAM or not.

The problem with this is I think I already know all I really need to know about in this area - I don't. A way to remedy this false idea would be for me to write about brand new advancements, but that would require sources I don't have access to, so my writing would become nothing but a strange version of the telephone game, or just simple reviews (Not that I actually have anything against either of those things). I could instead research the capabilities of these new things by pestering the people who try to sell them to me in the mall when I actually want to buy a pair of pants, or wandering to the hospital and casually ask about new equipment (Although that would require arranging a ride there, or a conveniently timed injury). If I'm focused on the potential of new technologies then I'll have some rather interesting material.

A completely different course of action I could take to find what I could write on would be questioning the effect these things have on people, such as with the following prompts:

"Does using the Internet make you more inclined to protect the Internet?"

"Do recent technologies have adverse effects on youth?"

"Do new washing machines not properly prepare people for real life situations?"

And the like. This sort of investigation would be about psychology. Data and results would be found using statistical methods.