Unity followup

Monday, September 25, 2023

Tagged: unity, enshittification

I wrote about Unity's license change a couple of weeks ago. Unity responded to all the yelling on Friday, so I guess I should follow up.

The summary of the changes:

  • The runtime fee does not apply to people using the Unity Personal or (soon to be extinguished) Unity Plus subscription.
  • The runtime fee only applies to games using Unity 2024 and later.
  • The runtime fee is capped at 2.5% of your game's revenue.
  • "Installs" is self-reported. They're saying "initial engagements" now, with notes that you can ignore piracy, reinstalls, and other corner cases.

A quick note about Unity, plus a surprise

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Comments: 9   (latest 2 days later)

Tagged: unity, steam, enshittification, meanwhile, leviathan, the beyond, jason shiga

You may have heard that Unity, the game engine company, announced new terms this week which amount to shooting itself in the foot with a hand grenade. A handfootgrenade, if you will. "Fusshandgranate" in the original German.

I have nothing to add to the discourse beyond that questionable neologism, but I want to be transparent about what this means for me as a developer. Short answer: No direct impact, but it may affect my future plans.

It's still summer and I'm still playing games.

(Pace xkcd, but New England meteorological seasons line up with the astronomical seasons. September is a summer month; December is a fall month.) (Sometimes it snows in the fall months, is all.)

  • Verne: The Shape of Fantasy
  • Void Stranger
  • Chants of Sennaar
  • The Case of the Golden Idol: The Lemurian Vampire
  • Obsidian

Canon is kayfabe for writers

Thursday, September 7, 2023   (updated 19 hours later)

Comments: 23   (latest 4 days later)

Tagged: canon, kayfabe, star trek, star wars, doctor who, myst

Chatting about "canon" yesterday a few days ago:

[...] But one of the things I love about Doctor Who is that, if you mention canon to it, it just laughs. And not a small laugh! A "Valentine Dyall as the Black Guardian" laugh. NYA-HAHA. NYAAAAA-HAHAHAH!!! -- @SJohnRoss, Sept 3

I think it’s fair to say that Star Wars and Star Trek are both happily standing on top of smoldering craters labelled “canon”. They took very different paths to get there, with very different initial intentions — whereas Doctor Who has just meandered amiably for years. But the end result has converged on “canon what canon”, no matter how many wikis people write. -- @zarfeblong, Sept 3

Reflecting dans les escaliers, I want to take that further.

Canon isn't a straitjacket; it's a game. That's why it's fun! We're not here to watch writers be consistent. We're here to watch writers come up with awesome moves in the game of consistency.

It's kayfabe! It's exactly kayfabe. The writers are selling us a meta-story that their story conforms to a great and glorious master plan, a beautiful aperiodic crystal of harmony. And we pretend to buy it -- even though we know the writers are making it up as they go. They've been making it up as they go for sixty years. (For the DC and Marvel (multi-)verses(-es), even longer.) We know perfectly well that the story will change the next time someone has a better idea, and we're fine with that. But we are united in the pretense.

I wrote a will

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Comments: 5   (latest 10 hours later)

Tagged: will, law, inheritance, death, nolo, john m ford, the westing game

Today I went to game night (yeah, we all nose-tested first) and the first game I pulled out was "Who wants to witness Zarf's will?"

Don't worry; I'm in rude good health and expect to continue doing stuff for another thirty or forty years. I wrote a will anyway because it's a good idea. You know the story of John M. Ford, right? Wrote a will but never got it witnessed, so his works disappeared for almost fifteen years. (His family and his editors finally sorted it out in 2019.)

I don't want that to happen to me.

Really, I should have done a will ten years ago. Or longer. I put it off because it's boring. Of course it's boring! But look, I'm in my fifties and there's plagues out there. You never know. (Also, I co-own a house now. You don't want to leave real estate flapping in the wind.)

No, I did not leave all my riches to the winner of a baroque puzzle treasure hunt. That's fun in stories but it turns out it's a hassle in real life. I just named some beneficiaries.

Here's the part you might care about:

I leave the copyrights of all my work and all other intellectual property, as well as [sum of money], to the nonprofit organization Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation or, if such beneficiary does not survive me, to the nonprofit organization Internet Archive.

There's also a request to put the whole pile under a Creative Commons license. The money is intended to help keep my web sites running. (It's not a huge sum; they're not expensive web sites.)

The request isn't part of the will, by the way. You don't want to go messing up the legal document with conditionals and requirements. I wrote a separate letter to IFTF describing my wishes for my bequest. It's not legally binding because, like, I'll be dead and they'll own it. That's how wills work! But "What would Zarf have wanted us to do with all this?" is an answerable question.

(Note: This blog post is not my will. I may amend my will in the future. Stuff happens.)

So do you want to write your will now? You should.

I did mine off of Nolo.com's Quick & Legal Will Book. This is simple and cheap. It's not meant for people with complicated estates or legal hassles. But if you are an ordinary sort of person who owns some stuff, and you don't have a lawyer who you talk to regularly about said stuff, this book will be fine.

(It's also not meant for people who live in Louisiana or the US territories. They have weird laws. The other 49 states and DC are on a common framework, so the book covers all of them.)

Nolo.com has a bunch more resources for estate planning, including a Quicken-based "WillMaker". I didn't use that. I just bought the book and downloaded the template forms. (Those come free with the book.)

The forms themselves were really very simple. My will is four pages and most of that is boilerplate. You make a list of stuff and say who gets it. You say who gets all the stuff not listed above. You say whether you're married and/or have kids. (There's extra questions about kids.) Then you name an executor, who will be in charge of handing all the stuff out if and when. The whole process took me about half an hour.

(Note: This blog post is not legal advice either. Read through the book before you tackle the forms. That took longer than half an hour, but not too much longer.) (I was able to skip all the chapters about kids, which simplified things.)

That's it! This is your reminder to think about this stuff. Have a nice day.

Who or why or when or whether, You and I shall dance together. -- (The banner on a mural whereon Death is the dancing-master: from Aspects, John M. Ford.)

The myth of Google's plus

Friday, August 25, 2023

Comments: 29   (latest 17 hours later)

Tagged: google, search, plus, google+, quotes, history

No, not Google+ the failed social media service. I want to talk about the + operator that Google Search used to support.

People often tell this story:

Google used to let you type +foo to search for pages which actually contained the word "foo". But they removed this feature, because they wanted to reserve the + sign for their new Google+ service. Now there's no way to do it.

That's a paraphrase of many comments I've seen over the years. (This post was inspired by an exchange on Mastodon, but I don't want to single out any particular commenter.)

This story has been around since Google+ launched. But is it true? Okay, I spoiled that when I titled this post "The myth of Google's plus."

I should say, the story is partially wrong. We should separate several claims:

  1. The old + search operator limited searches to pages which contained the search term... (false)
  2. ...but that feature was removed... (false...ish?)
  3. ...because of Google+... (true)
  4. ...and now there's no way to do that. (false)

Strong italics, I know. I can back them up!

Years ago -- 2012 maybe -- I dug through Google's docs and the Wayback Machine to try to figure out the true history of the + operator. Then... I forgot to post about it. My + notes sat in a dusty corner for a decade. Whoops.

Time to bring them forth! The G+ era has faded into history; it's harder to find what really happened. I figure I can put some source material back into circulation.

(Full credit to Jonathan Rochkind, who also did this research in 2011 and found more sources.)

A kitchen is born

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Comments: 25   (latest 19 hours later)

Tagged: art, kitchen, mosaic, diane duane

Time for another post about my home!

This blog is hosted at zarfhome.com. "Zarfhome" is my virtual Internet home but it's also literally my house. You might even have seen my library a couple of years ago.

The house is great but the kitchen was vintage. Formica, particle board, and stick-on linoleum.

A bare kitchen with laminate counters, cheap cabinets, and bad stick-on tile flooring. Nice woodwork on the window though. The kitchen as of May. You don't even want to know what the stove looked like.

I finally saved up enough to do something about that. The remodel started mid-May and now it's done. The final inspection was this morning; they've towed away the site portajohn.

Left-hand view of a kitchen with new appliances, hardwood floor, and custom blue-and-green tile backsplash. Center view of the kitchen. Right-hand view of the kitchen. The kitchen as of August. The under-cabinet lights are on to highlight the tile.

No particular theme this time.

  • Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals
  • A Long Journey to an Uncertain End
  • Can of Wormholes
  • Viewfinder

When I was a kid, I played around with the language FORTH on my Apple 2. GraFORTH, I'm pretty sure. I didn't get very far into it -- I don't remember creating anything complicated. But I did figure out how to make beeps and boops at various pitches. (Chapter 9!)

As it happened, another floppy in my (mostly pirated) collection was Electric Duet. This program accomplished the feat of playing two-voice music through the Apple's one-bit sound channel. Two notes at once on the same speaker! Inconceivable wizardry. If you fire up that link, you'll find a "jukebox" of pre-programmed tunes -- mostly Bach inventions -- and an editor that lets you play with the system yourself. If I recall correctly, I typed up Bach's Crab Canon. (Of course I was a Hofstadter fan.)

I was also a fan of other "weird" Bach renditions, notably Wendy Carlos (electronic) and the Swingle Singers (a cappella jazz). The best idea I ever had -- and I may mean that literally -- was to program in a Swingle-style rendition of a Bach fugue in GraFORTH, and then go around telling people that I had invented swinging Bach in FORTH.

(...You have to say it out loud.)

(No, I never got around to doing it.)

We've been planning this one for a few months, and now it's about to happen:

Collecting Narrative Games in Libraries: An Open Discussion

Two Zoom sessions (you can attend either):

  • Weds, July 12 from 7-9pm ET
  • Tues, July 18 from 12-2pm ET

Colin Post prepped this with his talks at NarraScope 2022 and 2023:

"My (Mostly) Frustrated Efforts to Collect Narrative Games in an Academic Library" (slides)

A look at the history and present challenges of developing collections of narrative games. I’ll reflect on my ongoing project to jumpstart a narrative games collection at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro.

"Cataloging Narrative Games to Expand the Bibliographic Universe" (slides)

Last year I detailed the efforts and challenges involved in collecting digitally-distributed narrative games at an academic library. Now, having acquired approximately 25 narrative games for the library collection, I have been working with librarians to promote discovery and access of these works.

The problem, in short, is that the IF community is very informal about publishing games. We post games on the IF Archive and personal web sites. Games in various competitions are generally copied to the IF Archive -- but not always. And we have no way at all to tell the more formal academic world, "Look, this is our history of IF; you can study it."

Academics and students do study IF; that's been going on for decades. But you can't go to your University library and check out the IF collection, because nobody gave them permission to have a collection. In the old days a library could buy games on disc (which is its own subject). But the modern IF community is entirely digital.

One possible approach is for IF authors to adopt some kind of standard license. "Yes, the IF Archive and other digital libraries can keep a copy of this work." Or something like that! Maybe we should connect our bibliographic database to library databases? Is searching IF a different subject from archiving IF? The details are very much up for discussion.

I'd love to see something like this happen, myself.

The next step is an open discussion and user study. All independent game creators are invited to participate. Yes, this means you get to be a lab rabbit, but only in the sense of "fill out a questionnaire." The point is to survey IF/indie authors about what they think about this sort of licensing framework. What do you want out of it? What are your concerns?

(Anybody can join in the discussion session. The survey part isn't mandatory. The results of the survey will be completely anonymous in any publication or use afterwards.)

See this forum post for info on participating. Contact Colin Post by email if you're interested.