Fed2 Star - the newsletter for the space trading game Federation 2

The weekly newsletter for Fed2
by ibgames

EARTHDATE: April 12, 2015

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An idiosyncratic look at, and comment on, the week’s net, technology and science news

by Alan Lenton

Just under 80 URLs in my list of potential Winding Down pieces this week! I had to drastically prune them to make a readable issue. I’m featuring the lifetime of MMORPGs, April Fool jokes, IKEA refugee shelters, polychromatic skiing, info maps of the London blitz and the subway system, 3D printers, a cool laptop bag, and a case of fire in the hole! If that’s not enough there’s URLs on germ fighting glass, Ice Truckin’, federal agents and BitCoin, security and the Internet of Things, AT&T watching your web browsing, and 30 years of the GNU manifesto.

I will be out of town again for the next three weekends, so I won’t be able to write a Winding Down. The next issue will be on 10 May.

So, onward...


Alter Gamer has an interesting piece by John Richard Albers on the lifecycle of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG). As usual there is complete ignorance of the existence of such things prior to the launch of Ultima Underworld, but the rest of the article is a perceptive piece of analysis.

Basically Albers argues that the fundamental problem is a disjunction between the way the developers thought the game would be played and the aim of the people who play the game. The developers envision a game which is balanced and with a significant social element, while the bulk of the early adopters just want to get to the top as fast as possible with all the best kit.

This creates a layer of players that become bored, and often toxic from the point of view of the game as a whole. They amuse themselves complaining that the game isn’t developing, that they are bored, and making life difficult for newer players. The problem is that if you put something genuinely new in the game, this effectively levels the playing field. But all the accumulated experience, skills and loot of the top players gets written off, and they get really, really, pissed (or pissed off, as we Brits say).

Alternatively, if, as the designer, you add more of the same but more difficult, at the best all you do is give yourself a short breathing space until the top players hit the top limit again. At the worst you get complaints about more of the same! You can’t win...

One thing the article doesn’t talk about is the management of the game. Writing a game is easy compared to managing it when it goes live. The style of the game’s management can make a great deal of difference to the lifetime of a game, but, unfortunately, the author doesn’t delve into this tricky issue.

Nonetheless the piece is well worth reading, even if you’ve never written a multiplayer game yourself!

Because of the way Easter fell this year, we didn’t have a chance to tell you about this year’s online April Fool’s jokes, so here is a roundup produced by the UK’s Daily Telegraph. My favourites are the MS-DoS mobile phone from Microsoft, and CERN’s discovery of ‘The Force’.

I have to hand it to IKEA. They have designed and are producing flat pack refugee shelters. Anyone can design shelters (well nearly anyone), the problem is producing them in sufficient quantity to be useful. And, of course, IKEA is the obvious company to do it, and doing it they are, having committed to supply the UN Refugee Agency with 10,000 units. Judging from the pictures, the shelters are definitely better than being stuck in a tent, and they are a decent size.

The only problem I can see is that 10,000 is but a drop in the ocean measured against the number of refugees in the world. Sad, but true.

And finally in this section, here’s a little something to bring a some colour to your life. Now that’s what I call skiing!


I’ve always had a weakness for maps – old maps, everyday maps and new maps. As a kid I remember peering over reproductions of the maps used by explorers in the Middle Ages. Maps replete with exciting blank spaces labelled ‘Here Be Sea Monsters’, shaded stuff with names like Xanadu, Timbuktu, and El Dorado.

I admit I was getting ready to mourn the death of maps with development of SatNavs and their smart phone cousin apps. I was wrong, maps have taken on a whole dimension with the rise of infographics. Maps are now used to display information in all sorts of different ways.

Don’t believe me?

Then take a look at these URLs. The first one is an animated graphic showing half a million tube (subway) journeys in a 24 hour period in London.

The second is a map of where the German bombs fell during the London Blitz in the Second World War. (Type in the location ‘W4 2LL’ to find the ones that fell near where I now live!)

If you like what you see then take a look at the third URL which is for a book full of these infographics.

Geek Stuff:

I know. I know. I’ve been rattling on about the coming of 3D printers for ages now. However, recently, there have been things on the issue that caught my eye. They will, I believe, move the day when everyone has a 3D printer forward.

The first is a new printer technology that instead of doing the printing in layers, continuously forms the object, which means that instead of taking hours to print an object, it can print it in minutes. According to the inventors it prints between 25 and 100 times faster. [Editor’s recommendation – take a pinch of salt with the figure of 100.] Basically it uses UV light to harden out the image in a bath of liquid resin. This means that it is printing the whole object at once. Definitely faster.

The second is old technology – a long time and a spaghetti of resin strings if it goes wrong. However, the Tiko 3D printer only costs US$179. That’s much more in the range for which people would consider buying one for a household. As the article points out, if this proves viable, it’s going to blow away the business model of the 3D service bureaus. My heart bleeds for them!

And now for something completely different. In fact it’s protection for the budding hacker living dangerously. So, get out your dark shades and black suit and get down to the shop to buy a Savior MTS laptop bag. This is no ordinary laptop bag. No Sir! This laptop bag can stop a bullet from a .44 Magnum. Just the job if you were foolish enough to take out a six month programming contract in the Yemen – one with a massive no show penalty...


Let it not be said that London is not exciting. This last week we had an outbreak of fiery manholes. There was an underground fire in the tunnels under the Holborn area, and suddenly flames came roaring out of manholes in the area – several thousand people were trapped in their office buildings for several hours, and it took a couple of days to bring the fire under control, because it was being fed by a ruptured gas main. Take a look at the pictures – they’re pretty spectacular!


Corning’s germ-fighting glass means you can touch an ATM with less worry

Ice Truckin’

2 former federal agents charged with stealing Bitcoin during Silk Road probe

Researchers: IoT (Internet of Things) devices are not designed with security in mind

AT&T’s plan to watch your web browsing—and what you can do about it

GNU Manifesto published thirty years ago

15 open source gems for Windows ... from Microsoft


Thanks to readers Barb and Fi for drawing my attention to material for Winding Down.

Please send suggestions for stories to alan@ibgames.com and include the words Winding Down in the subject line, unless you want your deathless prose gobbled up by my voracious Thunderbird spam filter...

Alan Lenton
12 April 2015

Alan Lenton is an on-line games designer, programmer and sociologist, the order of which depends on what he is currently working on! His web site is at http://www.ibgames.net/alan/index.html.

Past issues of Winding Down can be found at http://www.ibgames.net/alan/winding/index.html.

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