Plutonian Botzlang

Plutonian Botzlang is a new language I’m working on for a commission we’ve had from Arnolfini and Kunsthal Aarhus. The idea is to make the Naked on Pluto game bots programmable in a way that allows them to be scripted from inside the game interface, able to inspect all the objects around them and carry out actions on the world like a normal player. We can then strip the game down and make it into an online multiplayer musical livecoding installation.

Bots can be fed code line by line by talking to them, started and stopped and pinged to check their status. I toyed with the idea of making a one-line programming language with lots of semi-cryptic punctuation but opted instead for something a bit simpler and longer, but requiring line numbers.

Here is an example program that looks in the current node, or room for Bells, picks them up if found then saying their descriptions. Each time it loops it might drop the Bell and walk to a new location. This results in bots that walk around a game world playing bells.

10  for e in node.entities
20     if is Bell
30        pickup
40     end
50  end
60  for e in this.contents
70     say e.desc
80  end
90  if random lessthan 5
100    drop Bell
110    walk
120 end
130 goto 10

Here is a screenshot of the modified version of the game with a bot being programmed:


New project with the Sensory Ecology and Evolution group at Exeter University

Time to announce a new a new project with the Sensory Ecology and Evolution group at Exeter University. We’re going to be working on games and experimental online work to bring their research into the evolution of camouflage and animal perception to new audiences, particularly focused on these stealthy characters, the Fiery-necked Nightjar:


The group’s previous work includes all kinds of experiments on animal perception, this one is a favourite of mine:

Aniziz and Zizim

The online part of the borrowed scenery project is an experiment in geotagging plants and plant related locations via a website/app called Zizim (the compass) combined with a multiplayer online game called Aniziz (the soil) where you can interact with the plants people have found. Having spent the last couple of months developing them, they are now ready for more of an open beta phase. Another part of the project is the forum here for collecting any feedback and thoughts.

Your role is to strengthen the connection between the world of Aniziz and the plants of Ghent. The plants are broadcasting messages which can only be correctly tuned into by energising them with fungi, the more plants you energise the higher your score will be.

The latest addition are specially tagged items called “pataportals” you can create with the android app which create “wormholes” in the Aniziz world. Stepping into one causes you to get sent to another one – which could be thousands of miles away. Right now Ghent is connected with the Cornish town of Penryn via a wormhole on the sea shore:

New game design

I’m working on a new game as an art/science collaboration, and thought that it might be interesting to try the technique of making a board game first. The idea is not so much to make it work first time, but use physical pieces to figure out possible rules and try them without thinking about limitations of screen or interface.

It seems to work quite well as a way of working together as it’s simple to make situations as questions, change the meaning of pieces by drawing on them – or play with the physical arrangement. It probably bears some relation to design processes like bodystorming or lego serious play.

Truffle Blocks

A new project running here that brings together Germination X’s HTML5 game engine with Google’s Blockly in the spirit of Fluxus and particularly Scheme Bricks.

I’ve had a plan for working on a visual programming language for browser based games (and got someway to implementing Scheme Bricks with the Naked on Pluto art installation). Blockly has saved me a lot of time, and is inspired in turn by Scratch from MIT and it has some really nice additional tricks – like being able to add comments and collapse blocks. This is approaching the way I’d really like to be able to program these kinds of games, in terms of rapid prototyping but also one day perhaps full development.

Truffle Blocks is only a few days old and very proof of concept at the moment – the underlying game engine still needs a lot of work as it’s a port from the HaXE/flash version, and although it’s not been designed for this kind of programming it was pretty fast to get something fairly usable running.

Blockly is quite different from Scheme Bricks – which is very freeform but requires you to remember how the syntax works to build up more complex forms (as in Lispy dialects generally). Scratch and Blockly build a lot of this syntax information into the structure of their blocks, making it great for teaching programming. One of the things about Blockly which is going to be useful is the ability to modify blocks themselves in a similar editor – for example this screenshot of modifying the if block to include arbitrary numbers of elseif and a final else section:

All the source is hosted on gitorious here.

Drawing plant spirits in Brussels

Some pictures from the Germination X plant spirit drawing workshop, part of FoAM‘s contribution to Open House Brussels, a public invitation for people to visit the artistic groups and labs in the city.

The plant spirit drawing system has improved a bit from last year’s workshop at Pixelache Helsinki, being able to upload to the public server. It was great to see these spirits in the latest version (some of them are still frolicking in the game at the moment).

Germination X graph of solutions

Last week I posted the big graph of problems based on feedback from the Falmouth Loading Bar focus test. I went through each area building up a list of possible solutions – the general idea being to find solutions that might solve more than one problem at a time.

I now have quite a reasonable todo list for another code sprint. Hopefully there will be some new things implemented, based on this – we will see how it goes.

Here is an image of a mass of feedback post-its neatly arranged into lines:

Germination X graph of problems

During the Germination X focus test I asked the participants a set of questions in 4 areas based on work we had done at SICS mobile life in Stockholm. This was useful as although there was a lot of information (and a load more free form feedback after the questions) – at least there was a structure to help understand it later.

Despite the glowing words of the post-event review, the important thing is to look at all of the criticisms from the post-it notes to create an depressing “graph of badness” – in order to pinpoint the areas needing urgent attention.

The game world

The main problems with the general game world seem to be a lack of distinction between the different elements – telling the fruit/seeds apart from the plants, how did the plant spirits relate to things. One tester found it very difficult to get plants to react to what they were doing, and therefore got very frustrated.

The Plant Spirits

Perhaps the most unusual, and certainly the most challenging aspect of the game, the plant spirits caused a lot of negative feedback. Some testers felt that they were random, and even aimless – zooming around and popping in and out of existence from player to player. The FAtiMA fixes had also caused them to over react to so many people playing at once – so they were moving too fast for people to even read their messages.

Even when they were understood, a well meaning but disastrous last minute ‘tweak’ made them ask people to help other players by planting plants they couldn’t pick yet, which lead people to think they were taunting them!

This prevented most players from interpreting any useful meanings from their actions (a lot ignoring them). It was only later when people went back to playing in a less intensive way (which I was pleased that a lot did over the following days) that they were reacting more normally.

Other players

The main problems flagged up when asked about their relationship with other players was the lack of a visible physical presence – no avatars. Other player’s actions were noticed quite strongly, but only indirectly – and not entirely helpfully. The lack of a map or overall view came up here too. Although the gifting mechanic was added to the tutorial only a couple of players tried it out, the others either didn’t notice it or forgot to try it.


The problems of ownership were related mainly to the problems with the game world, differentiation between elements – also some players didn’t notice the “glow” around their plants (which isn’t in the tutorial). More interestingly, some players found that being restricted to a single action – “planting” with no follow up meant they didn’t care as much about their plants as they could.

Predictably perhaps, this was also an area with a noticeable differences between the gamers and non-gamers, the ones more used to gaming felt their role was to “create the best garden” while the others tended to feel that they should be “helping each other to create a balanced world”.

The next Germination X post will be about solutions to some of these problems!