Friday, January 28, 2011

solaris admins are masochists

it's been a while since i had to do active development on solaris boxes. god they suck.

  1. tar doesn't natively handle compression and doesn't do simple things like "tar -xvf foo.tar" right (probably trying to extract to / by default).
  2. the default shell is not bash.
  3. ls doesn't understand simple things like `ls DIRECTORY -la` (change order of options) and it doesn't do color (supposedly because some retarded admins think a more optimal user interface is 'unprofessional').
  4. you have to fight with ps to get it to list anything the way you want unless you use -o and hope some other option you used doesn't break it.
  5. trying to figure out how much memory you have is a nightmare.
  6. most system information is complex and hidden behind solaris-specific tools or APIs.
  7. /export/home and /home exists (sometimes on different partitions), and for some reason root's home directory is / even though /root exists.
  8. the OS does nothing to set useful values like $PS1.

all that is just stuff that's happened to me within 5 minutes. jesus christ solaris, you've had a million years to catch up to usability of gnu tools. either replace your old broken shit or freshen it up. (while people still use your antiquated crap)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

reality inside a video game

the thought occurred to me that in virtual worlds, avatars rarely (if ever) age. as far as i can tell, The Sims 2 is the only game where characters are born, grow old, and subsequently die. i think this paints a vivid picture of how we see our virtual worlds and how we wish to spend our time - that is to say, not thinking about mortality.

probably most video games which involve a [virtually] living entity involve certain properties of immortality. usually an avatar will find it difficult to die, and once they do die, are immediately given the opportunity to come back to life. it's left up to the user to determine if they should be brought back or not. they can be revived indefinitely if the user so chooses.

but where's the reality in that? there is no 'save point' in real life. if the user dies, it's game over permanently. in many aspects we have total control over our lives and in a very GTA way we can do anything we want. but we also have our own personal limitations and the limitations of the world around us. we are free to expand, only to be confined in boundaries.

so where is the birth? where is the growth, the learning, the adaptation and choices that shape our lives? why haven't we fully grasped those crucial factors of real life and distilled them to a video game form? to me, this is the ultimate video game: one in which just playing the game changes the shape and course of our lives. where we're no longer bystanders but active participants.

in my game the user gets only one avatar, and they have to follow it through its life. if the avatar dies, they don't get to play again until the average life expectancy of that character is up. there will be no way to circumvent this - no "ruling class" shaped by how much money the user pumps into the system to try to revive their character. everyone gets the same access and plays by the same rules. there will also be no "gold farming", no multiple accounts, trading or buying/selling. the ability to play this game will be rigidly structured, with the same building blocks, freedoms and boundaries as the user could find in our own world. this will be the most addictive game ever made.

obviously with such imposing limits on how and if the user can play, people will have to be very careful how they play. there will be no running around like a jack-ass and fucking with people, because who knows... they might just stab the user for being such a jack-ass. now he/she's dead, and they can't play again for 40 or 50 literal human years. kind of a morbid warning to others, but it reflects some of the motivations we all have to remain calm, respectful human beings instead of what we regress to on anonymous mediums without fear of retribution.

besides this "real reality" imposed by the limitations and fragility of an existence such as human beings, users will also experience what it is like to grow up inside the system. they'll start either from birth or from being very small children, perhaps with 'parents' or some other adult guardian figure. the hope is that we can actually teach people lessons about life. obviously most users will already have the knowledge of a teenager or older, so basic concepts like reading, history, etc may not be necessary. but the interaction with other avatars - also controlled by users jsut like them, in an environment not unlike the real world - may help them realize things about life they hadn't noticed before. in this world the user isn't the same person - they are someone unique, and they don't get to decide who they are. by living life in the shoes of a random individual they may find new things to discover about the real world. in this way, the user actually learns as the avatar does.

this whole concept hinges on the idea of imposing all the restrictions of the real world in the virtual one. an avatar cannot be allowed to have anything given to them except what they may receive as a normal part of trade or the economy of the virtual world. users may not "inject" currency into the system - as in the real world, they have to earn, steal or be gifted anything they want or need.

this brings up some more real-life aspects not often found in video games (except perhaps the Sims): food, clothing, shelter. we all need it, and it's almost never for free. unless someone decides to build a homeless shelter and find a way to gather the resources to give this stuff away for free, everything is simply acquired via the standard means used in the real world. but the avatar must eat, and must sleep, and must be kept in good health. all of these things are related to how we interact with our real world and how we live and grow and learn, and thus must be replicated in the virtual world.

as in the real world, there will be ways for avatars to go to school, read books, listen to music, play basketball... anything we can think of to try to replicate the common human experience. but this also includes the negative aspects of our human condition. selling drugs, molesting children, murdering, overthrowing governments. oh yes, we'll need a government and people to enforce its laws. i think it will be interesting to start with anarchy, and see if a system of government (or perhaps a cult?) develops to enforce rule of law and order. because many people will be apathetic to the idea of this virtual world, many people may begin playing and immediately try to wreak havoc. this is part of how starting as a child may be beneficial; they may not be able to attain the resources to cause much trouble. but the people will also need to police themselves and try to prevent malice from destroying what they've built for themselves.

the idea is difficult to realize. to build an entire real world in a computer... is this not what The Matrix is supposed to be? it seems like an enormous undertaking, and one fraught with trouble. but as we learned from The Matrix, there must be flaws for it to be convincing. it must be a harsh world if people are going to recognize it as real. however, this world will have no AI (until at some point the scale of the system requires it). any AI that people could actually interact with would defeat the purpose of the entire system. in a realistic world, we build it, we shape it. there may be things about nature that help define what it is, but ultimately we determine our own destinies. an AI mucking things up would be like a God that gets to decide if you get ice cream or don't get ice cream. in truth, we all know it is us that makes such decisions.