dhopkins's blog

Welcome to Don Hopkins' new Drupal site!

I'm now using the Drupal content management system for this site. Marc Canter recommended I check out Drupal, so I'm giving it a try now. It seems to work pretty well so far, and it looks like some well designed and written code. I've cleaned up and reorganized my old stuff, added some new stuff, and made some books and discussion forums as well a blog. There's lots more cool stuff to come!

Please follow the "read more" links of articles you're interested in, because only the first few paragraphs are shown in the blog view. Please tell me if you have any problems or suggestions.

Should the Government Treat Video Games like Alchohol and Tobacco?

USAToady wrote an article about the "Battle over violent video games heating up".

First of all, to address the lame-assed attempt at a pun in the article title: I wish USAToady would just stop trying to be mildly but non-offensively funny, or else hire some real stand-up, knock-down, drag-out comedians like Al Franken to write their headlines.

The battle over violence. Ha ha ha not. The only thing they've been able to demonstrate so far, is that video games cause foolish violence and heated battles between fully grown politicians, who should know better. So stop selling video games to politicians.

"Those who favor laws restricting the sale or rental of violent videos to minors say government should treat the games like alcohol or tobacco."

Now there's a great idea: the Government should treat Violent Video Games like they do Big Tobacco.

Price support and production controls for violent video games: The computer game industry could really use the shot in the arm that would bring!

Should the government pay video game developes NOT to produce violent video games? They could keep their employees busy writing harmless cruise missile guidance systems and tactical nuclear warfare simulations for the war on terror, instead of developing violent games for kids.

Would Jesse Helms have mounted a filibuster, to prevent a video game tax hike, and protect the video game industry in his state? Will Texas Senator John Cornyn sell lawsuit protection to the Texas Violent Video Game Industry, just like he protected the Big Tobacco Industry from being sued for killing their customers?

The Future of Content - Will Wright's Spore Demo at GDC 3/11/2005

The Future of Content

What I learned about content from the Sims.
...and why it's driven me to procedural methods.
...And what I now plan to do with them.

Will Wright
Game Developers Conference

Notes taken by Don Hopkins at the talk, and from other discussions with Will Wright.

See also: Pictures of Will Wright's Spore from GamingSteve.com.


Will Wright started his talk by saying that he wanted to show this tothe game developer community first, before a commercial show like E3.

NASA Launches Aura Atmosphere Satellite

Yahoo! News - NASA Launches Aura Atmosphere Satellite:

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - After a series of delays, NASA's Aura satellite was launched into orbit early Thursday on a $785 million mission to study Earth's atmosphere.

Subanthropic Principle and Undetectability Conjecture anticipated by Stanislaw Lem's "Fiasco"

Fiasco Book Cover I ran across this interesting stuff in the discussion forum about Stanislaw Lem, who wrote a book called "Fiasco":

From: TR, 06 Sep 2003, 08:37:53

looks much like an idea Lem published decades ago:

Abstract: http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/physics/0308078 [PDF]

"In the recent article `Conflict between anthropic reasoning and observation' (gr-qc/0303070) Ken D. Olum, using some inflation-based ideas and the anthropic premise that we should be typical among all intelligent observers in the Universe, arrives at the puzzling conclusion that `we should find ourselves in a large civilization (of galactic size) where most observers should be, while in fact we do not'. In this note we discuss the intriguing possibility whether we could be in fact immersed in a large civilization without being aware of it. Our conclusion is that this possibility cannot be ruled out provided two conditions are met, that we call the Subanthropic Principle and the Undetectability Conjecture. The Subanthropic Principle states that we are not typical among the intelligent observers from the Universe. Typical civilizations of typical galaxies would be hundreds of thousands, or millions, of years more evolved than ours and, consequently, typical intelligent observers would be orders of magnitude more intelligent than us. The Undetectability Conjecture states that, generically, all advanced civilizations camouflage their planets for security reasons, so that no signal of civilization can be detected by external observers, who would only obtain distorted data for disuasion purposes. These conditions predict also a low probability of success for the SETI project. We also argue that it is brane worlds, and not inflation, what dramatically could aggravate the `missing-alien' problem pointed out first by Enrico Fermi."

The Subanthropic Principle: We are not typical among the intelligent observers from the Universe. Typical civilizations of typical galaxies would be hundreds of thousands, or millions, of years more evolved than ours and, consequently, typical intelligent observers would be orders of magnitude more intelligent than us.

Software Development Magazine: Inside the Stupid Fun Club

Riding around in a remote-controlled car seat while being shot by ping-pong balls. Software Development Magazine wrote an article called "Inside the Stupid Fun Club" (registration required).

The author, Alexandra Weber Morales, unexpectedly encountered the Sad Robot, broken down and crying for help on the streets of Oakland.

We were shooting a couple of hidden camera reality TV "One Minute Movies" for NBC: one of a Sad Robot torn apart into pieces and pleading for help from passers by, and the other of a Robot Waiter taking orders, serving food and bantering for a tip in a barbecue restaurant.

I (Don Hopkins) developed the custom "robot brain" software for Will Wright's Stupid Fun Club, mostly in Python. It involved writing lots of high level Python code and XML data, and integrating all kinds of different software components together with SWIG, C++, ActiveX, Java, IRC, HTTP and WiFi. The robot features 3D facial animation, speech synthesis and recognition, conversational scripting, artificial intelligence, personality simulation, telerobotic remote control via wireless networking, with an interactive web interface for controling its behavior in real time.

For another Stupid Fun Club project, I also used Python to develop expressive synthetic speech authoring tools (audio speech "phonoscoping", like visual animation "rotoscoping"), and talking toy simulations.

Python is ideally suited for brainstorming and prototyping new product ideas, as well as developing custom real-time robotic software for supporting creative Stupid Fun Club projects like reality TV production.

Sims Designer Chris Trottier on Tuned Emergence and Design by Accretion

Will Wright, Gordon Walton and Chris Trottier brought us an exciting look into The SIMS Online. The only question now is... will they sell IV's for those users who won't be able to tear themselves away from it to eat?

The Armchair Empire interviewed Chris Trottier, one of the designers of The Sims and The Sims Online. She touches on some important ideas, including "Tuned Emergence" and "Design by Accretion".

Chris' honest analysis of how and why "the gameplay didn't come together until the months before the ship" is right on the mark, and that's the secret to the success of games like The Sims and SimCity.

The essential element that was missing until the last minute was tuning: The approach to game design that Maxis brought to the table is called "Tuned Emergence" and "Design by Accretion". Before it was tuned, The Sims wasn't missing any structure or content, but it just wasn't balanced yet. But it's OK, because that's how it's supposed to work!

In justifying their approach to The Sims, Maxis had to explain to EA that SimCity 2000 was not fun until 6 weeks before it shipped. But EA was not comfortable with that approach, which went against every rule in their play book. It required Will Wright's tremendous stamina to convince EA not to cancel The Sims, because according to EA's formula, it would never work.

If a game isn't tuned, it's a drag, and you can't stand to play it for an hour. The Sims and SimCity were "designed by accretion": incrementally assembled together out of "a mass of separate components", like a planet forming out of a cloud of dust orbiting around star. They had to reach critical mass first, before they could even start down the road towards "Tuned Emergence", like life finally taking hold on the planet surface. Even then, they weren't fun until they were carefully tuned just before they shipped, like the renaissance of civilization suddenly developing science and technology. Before it was properly tuned, The Sims was called "the toilet game", for the obvious reason that there wasn't much else to do!

Here are some questions and answers from the interview with The Sims designer Chris Trottier:

Automating The Sims Character Animation Pipeline with MaxScript

From: johnw@lyric.com (John Wainwright)
Sent: Tuesday, May 05, 1998 1:31 PM
To: dhopkins@maxis.com (Don Hopkins)
Subject: CGDC talk

Hi, Don.

Kinetix has roped me into giving a talk about MAXScript at the Game Developer's Conference in Long Beach on Friday. I wanted to see if its OK to mention your use of MAXScript at Maxis and if so, maybe you could give a few bullet points on what it's OK for me to mention. Of course, I remember the note track key stuff and the Access database interface, but I'm not sure if there were other things and how all that wound up coming together.


Certainly! Here is a description of how I'm using MaxScript to implement The Sims character animation pipeline:

Alphaville Herald Interview with Don Hopkins

In this interview, Don Hopkins describes his early days on the Sims development team with Will Wright (back when the project was called Dollhouse) and the difficulties the team had fighting EA's attempts to terminate the project, and then preventing EA from gutting it of interesting content (like architecture tools). Even now, he claims that EA fails to respect Will Wright and his vision by not developing custom content for TSO, and that it has shown no interest in a tool that he (Hopkins) created that would allow users to safely create custom objects that won't crash the game.

Overview of the Interview -- some headline quotes:

"I recall that one of our most difficult accomplishments was convincing EA not to cancel the project, because some of the EA old guard didn't trust nor respect Will's vision, didn't "get" the idea of Dollhouse, didn't think it would sell, wanted to inject it full of their old tried and trusted formula, and wanted to gut out the most interesting parts of the game (like the architecture tools). I think it's a lucky fluke that The Sims ever shipped, and I hope EA has learned enough from their experience to trust the projects that Will is directly involved in, listen to what he's been saying eloquently and consistently for years, and let something like The Sims happen again."

"I don't think the lack of user created content is the only reason The Sims Online is a failure, but I think it's an extremely important one that EA went out on a limb and promised, but never executed on. EA still hasn't officially announced that they're not going to let Maxis support user created content, but as far as I have been able to tell, they've whitewashed the original discussion groups where they made and discussed the promise. I realize that there are some difficult technical issues that have to be solved, in order to support user created content in an online game like The Sims Online. That's why I wrote this proposal for SafeTMog, a tool that would enable users to safely create objects for The Sims Online that could not possibly crash the game: http://www.donhopkins.com/2004/02/05.html#a72"

"Unfortunately EA was not apparently interested in SafeTMog, which leads me to believe that they're not interested in ever supporting user created content in The Sims Online. I don't know why Maxis never executed on the plan they promised, but I do believe they disregarded and didn't respect Will Wright's opinion in this matter, which he clearly articulated. I don't think the problem was a lack of resources: just the opposite. So much conservative money was bet on the project that it wasn't allowed to innovate. I don't believe it was ineptitude at the engineering or design level, but more likely at the executive management, resource allocation and marketing level. My impression is that some of the people in charge didn't believe in Will's vision, didn't trust him, didn't listen to him, didn't do what he's been saying for years, all along. I wish EA would have taken some of the millions of dollars they made from The Sims 1, and invested it back in fully developing The Sims Online, instead of sucking it out of Maxis to support the rest of EA."

You can read the entire Interview with Don Hopkins in the Alphaville Herald.

Dave Winer Speaks at Microsoft about Standards versus Open Formats

Dave Winer spoke at Microsoft, and discussed the definition of "blog". An important point he explains is why he makes a distinction between "Standards" and "Open Formats":

[28:00 into the video]

Question from Microsoft: How is that different from having a departmental web page?

Answer from Dave: It's not different. In 2004, a personal web site is a web log. And in 2004 in my opinion, a departmental web site is also a weblog.

We've worked on the user interface, and we've worked on the technology, and it's gotten easier, and there are certain standard practices, and that's all sort of boxed up in this concept called "Weblog".

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