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Five year retrospective

Five years ago I more or less finished writing "Halting State", although it wasn't published until mid-2007. Around that time, MMOs were getting an increasing amount of interest, and a startup forum/social site called GuildCafe commissioned me to write an article about the next 25 years.

While I linked to it from my blog, the original article stayed on GuildCafe's site, but GuildCafe have apparently been through some changes, and the original article has succumbed to link rot.

So I'm reprinting it below. And my question for you is, what' did I get wrong in 2007?

Life's a game, and then you die

A shorter history of the next 25 years

I've been asked by our hosts to take a stab at identifying how online games will affect our culture over the next couple of decades. That's an interesting target because it covers a bunch of time scales. So I'm going to look at where we stand today, and where we might go at various stages along that 25 year time-line.

That's a tall order; technology doesn't stand still, and it's no good trying to guess where the gaming field is going without knowing where the tech base is taking us. So we need to look at where we are and where we've come from in order to plot a course ahead. [See boxout, "The dirty tech truth" (at end of article).]

One year out

Some time in the next year or so, I expect to wake up one morning and see a newspaper headline in my RSS reader: "TERRORIST TRAINING CELL RAIDED IN SECOND LIFE".

This doesn't mean that Osama bin Laden is a gamer, or indeed that there *are* any terrorists in SL. (Au contraire, real terrorists are more interested in blowing shit up than playing games.) Worst case: some whack jobs will figure out that SL—or it could be WoW or EO—is a cheap tool for multi-user chat that isn't currently being monitored by the feds. (Expect this window of opportunity to close about ten seconds after this article is published.) What such an article will *really* signify is that the mainstream press have finally discovered MMOs.

The media goes through a series of stages with any new communications tool or medium as they get to grips with it. And we're nearly halfway through the process.

It starts with breathless memos from the cutting-edge technology underground, reported in the media niche that subsists on sniffing out new developments. Think WIRED. "A bunch of egg-heads have invented a whizzmajig ... they're predicting global revolution!" The journalists arrive like seagulls, flying over at a great height and squawking loudly as they deliver a mess of misconceptions before flying out again.

A while later, when the whizzmajig catches on and gets a loyal user community, the first columnist notices it: "hey! You strange egg-heads in your whizzamajig! Can you hear me? Do you speak ... English?"

Then, some time later, the dam breaks.

The first symptom is that Reuters pay Warren Ellis or some other cutting-edge cyber-celebrity to move into SL. (And, whaddaya know, if they did the job right, they picked someone who actually knows what they're talking about.) Warren drinks their retainer or injects it into his eyeball or something, then dashes off some febrile prose which gets syndicated. Heads turn at AP and UPI: "why don't *we* have someone covering this Whizzumajig? We're falling behind! Hire Hunter Thompson!"

At the same time, some random gamers in places like the Swedish Foreign Ministry or the French Nazi Party decide they can get some free publicity by staking out some territory and figuratively mooning the straights. Exploding pigs, flying lutefisk, and other whackiness ensues.

And then the tidal wave of mass media awareness arrives, complete with the usual foaming mess of sewage, uprooted trees, and general crap turned out by the tabloid press and cheap news channels as they try to spew one lurid scenario after another through the playground. "It encourages pedophiles! Or terrorists! Kids get into Whizzumajig and fail their college exams! Users get hair in their palms and go blind! Ban Whizzumajigs now, before it steals our precious bodily fluid!"

This is followed by the most desperately attention-hungry members of the political class picking up the stupidest articles written by the most misguided members of the fourth estate, and proposing legislation so jaw-droppingly idiotic that their sane colleagues usually strangle it in the cradle. (See also: the internet, blogs and social network software, YouTube, MP3s, and probably papyrus back in Ancient Egypt. So has it ever been ...)

Today, about 0.1% of the planetary population have logged onto WoW at some time or another. Warren Ellis has indeed moved in on Second Life. We are therefore, within the next year or so, going to end up paddling for dear life to keep our heads above the tidal wave of public attention.

Five years out

Five years is an interesting time.

It takes roughly five years to develop a game. And by 2012, the 2G GSM phone networks that have been the backbone of global communication since the mid 90s will be beginning to shutdown. Chronically short on bandwidth, 2.5G networks couldn't push much past 100kbps, too slow to be useful for massively multiplayer gaming. Their 3G and 4G replacements, competing with WiMAX, bring orders of magnitude more data to mobile devices. Meanwhile, GPS location services are universal—for the first time, your mobile phone or laptop knows where you are and how to connect you to the internet.

Intermediate machines like UMPC's put power equivalent to today's gaming machines in a pocket. Desktop or wall-hanging TV/PC hybrids will be able to fill a wide screen to 1080p or higher resolution at fifty frames a second minimum. If true head-up displays start to appear in this time frame, things will get seriously interesting, but for now I'm not betting on it (yet). On the other hand, input devices are going to change for the better. Take the Wii controller as an example: put it together with a 60" wall-filling screen and voice-over-IP chat to your guild fellows and you've got a rather different gaming experience. Throw in some speech filters and your voice will even match your class or species.

What we're going to see is an explosion of new types of game. In addition to current-day MMOs, we're going to see systems that tie into social networks: MMOs that provide social fora similar to GuildCafe as part of the experience, not necessarily directly in-game but not out of game either.

And then there are the kissing-cousins. Modern MMOs are largely descended from table top role-playing games such as AD&D: but they're not the only spin-offs of those original paper-and-dice passtimes. Live Action Role-Playing (LARP) involves getting out and about and playing your role in the field; at risk of over-generalizing, LARPing bears an equivalent relationship to RPGs that paintball games bear to first-person-shooters. However, while paintball has tended to involve technology all along, LARP has mostly not been infected with spurious electronics. All of that is about to change, though, thanks to the tools coming down the pipeline over the next few years.

Geocaching is a seemingly unrelated game; in it, players with GPS units compete to track down cached treasure troves containing cryptic clues, following the trail wherever it leads. Geocaching and live-action roleplaying haven't crossed paths with each other much so far, or with MMOs, but that's going to change. With UMPCs and GPS, your MMO can track players in the real world. This is going to evolve slowly, growing out of LARP routes rather than from the MMO side—but once wearable displays show up, live-action MMOs will soon follow.

An interesting bolt-on that is lurking just over the 5-year horizon is the cheap motion capture suits. Used for developing games by digitizing actor's movements, these suits are currently horrifyingly expensive: but they're going to get cheaper, eventually imploding into a bunch of small boxes on velcro straps that you attach to your limbs. Once you're wired for motion capture, the game doesn't just know where in the world you are—it knows whether you're parrying or picking your nose.

Given this choice of gameing paradigms, do you stay at home with your big screen and keyboard (or if you're feeling more energetic, your motion cap sensors) and game with friends on another continent, or do you go find a muddy field and game with friends who live locally? Well, why not do both? If you've got head-up displays (and there's no reason not to equip them with cheap camera chips so you can dodge real-world obstacles mapped into gamespace, as well as your view of your MMO), then there's no reason not to mix live action games with telepresence.

But it'll probably take a couple of generations of game before the mixture of long-range MMO and VR-assisted LARP really matures. Watch the skies.

As for the number of players ... I'm going to bet on an order of magnitude increase over the next five years. That's right: 1% of the human population of this planet will have tried MMOs by 2012. That's about 65 million people. A large proportion of the new players will be Chinese, Russian, or South American, but this isn't necessarily bad—there'll be genuine players showing up, not just farmers. Expect some interesting fallout (and possibly organized large-scale griefing) as real-world cultural divides come to the fore.

There are going to be non-game side-effects, too.

One of the big new things bubbling up under the tech world is 3D printers—machines costing anything from a couple of thousand dollars up to a couple of million that take in a CAD diagram and some raw materials and spit out a finished product, be it a wood carving or a piece of molded plastic or an extruded concrete house.

This isn't a particularly new technology, but it stayed eye-wateringly expensive until relatively recently. Now there are DIY plastic extrusion machines available for just over $1200, and the field's waiting to take off, much as PCs were in 1975.

As and when 3D printers catch on, a lot of hobbyists are going to be very happy—as well as architects (think: models), engineers (who need odd-shaped widgets) and DIY enthusiasts (you want that shelf bracket to *really* fit, design it yourself). But most of us will be content to buy or download open source templates for objects, possibly tweaking them to fit our specific requirements before we print them. And what better environment for seeing if that shelf bracket really *is* suitable for the living room than a virtual reality environment? MMOs are the first commercially viable VR systems, and the less-game-oriented ones are going to be moved in on by bespoke retailers—as opposed to off-the-shelf vendors like Amazon or WalMart—once they, and 3D printers, become widespread. Instead of going to the furniture store and puzzling over whether that sofa is going to fit, you can preview it in your Second Life living room then order it online for real-world delivery. And for smaller knick-knacks in SL (or whatever its successor is in 2012), you can just hit "print" and wait for it to rise up out of your 3D printer.

This is going to have huge long-term effects, incidentally—although it'll take a lot more than 5 years for them to become pervasive (think more like a generation or two). We're used to most of our big purchase items being mass produced by factories, in a limited range of shapes and sizes. With the level of customization that VR previewing offers, never mind the advent of 3D printers, a lot of items that today we buy from mass production runs are going to be so heavily customized that they might as well be bespoke originals. The standardized "look" that so many furnishings and domestic items have, encouraged by huge chains like WalMart or IKEA, is gradually going to become a rarity, replaced by a much more diverse range of products.

10-15 years out

Do you remember what the internet was like in 1992? Or 1987? Those are the years that bracket the 10-15 year range, looking backwards instead of forward. At the earliest reach, in 1987, the first MMO games just about existed—the first commercial, graphical MUDs showed up in the mid 80s. Trying to predict what a 2017-2023 game will look like, from here, is a losing proposition, like trying to predict Burning Crusade from the perspective of a user of the Exeter University MIST system.

So let's look at the development picture instead.

One of the problems with MMOs is that we want lots of lovely eyeball candy, cute tiles and interesting loot and fun scenery to gaze upon. This is getting to be a major, even dominant, aspect of the development process. As of 2006, typical games cost millions to develop—and may employ anything from dozens to hundreds of artists. If creation of new content isn't at least partially automated by 2023, the entire gaming biz is going to be in big trouble, with production and maintenance costs skyrocketing.

Procedural content—for example, automatic dungeon design—is nothing new; Moria and Nethack and similar games were doing it in the eighties. But they didn't have to handle graphic design. We should, by 2023, have some serious parallel processing hardware, with workstations containing up to 1024 cores per processor (and processors hopefully running at better than 10GHz by then). One possibility is to use genetic algorithms to evolve new character templates and monsters; Will Wright is exploring this idea (in a different context) in Spore and it's not hard to see it used to run variations on a theme in a more traditional MMO.

Another likely war forward is user-created content. Looking at the user contributed content for Neverwinter Nights, it's hard to separate the game's success from it's players' enthusiasm for DMing. One thing that's certain is that any games company that wants to make a profit is going to invest heavily in DM and content creation tools. The first game company to figure out how to recruit and reward users for contributing content and admin skills to their realm is going to win big.

Now here's another point: how big can we make an MMO shard?

Right now, it's hard to put more than a couple of thousand players on a single shard and maintain a coherent multi-user reality. There are bandwidth problems and server problems. But we're seeing three tech developments in 2007 which might help with this situation: peer-to-peer networking, trusted computing with DRM (by which I mean, someone else holds the keys to some of the services on your computer), and distributed databases.

We take it for granted that players *will* try to hack any system they have access to, for whatever purpose. (Especially if real world money is passing hands, exchangable for in-game goods and services.) At first glance, the idea of doing away with the current model of central servers and players running a client program, and replacing it with a peer-to-peer model, looks like madness. But if you can come up with an authentication and encryption scheme that uses the DRM and trusted computing hardware built into their computers to stop them from tampering with a secure server partition, and if that server is then talking to other player's game clients, sort of like SETI@home for MMOs, then where can we go from there?

Potentially we can get away from the scaling problem that has bedevilled MMOs—Ultima Online used to have to add a server for every hundred new players, eating into their profit margin immensely—by getting the players to subsidize the servers, and to contribute the content, and even to do some of the admin work, a game company could focus on improving its bottom line through sophisticated manipulation of the exchange rate between in-game goods and real world money. Of course, derivatives trading is risky—someone loses money if someone else makes a killing. Expect this one to appeal at first to MBAs and then to computer criminals everywhere. In fact, by 2023 some hideous financial instrument lurching out of a computer game and crashing an economy the size of Hungary will probably replace the Ponzi or pyramid scheme as the acme of web-of-trust scams.

(Random prediction: sooner or later, some enterprising crook will try running one of these scams on a bunch of hardcore LARPers. And they'll run into a world of hurt when they realize that *these* marks expect to get up close and physical, unlike the more virtual kind.)

A less crazy business scheme might involve giving away a p2p game environment, on condition that the players sign over a chunk of computer time to the games company—who can then resell it. Can't imagine who'd want 1% of the CPU cycles of ten million servers? Consider the usefulness of such a service to biotech startups trying to do protein folding calculations, or to organizations that wants to do parallel searching on terabytes of data—Google, for example (or the NSA).

By 2023, I wouldn't be too surprised if 750 million people have tried MMOs—that's 10% of the world population. But by then, growth will be slowing. Only 20% of the population have access to PCs, and even by 2023 I doubt that much more than 40% will have mobile phones. So the market is going to be pretty much saturated by then, and anyone hoping to make a killing is going to have to come up with something new to sell.

On the other hand, there'll be a lot of business opportunities in an ecology where MMOs are ubiquitous and games companies make money by selling add-ons. The flip side of "how big can we go?" is "how small?" Odds are high that personal islands in the successors to Second Life—inaccessible without an invitation, secured by biometric dongles—will be something we all have. And we keep stuff there that we don't need all the time but might want to drag kicking and screaming out of the virtual world and into reality. Our business avatars, for example: motion capture and VR finally answer the marketing problem that's bedeviled video phones, "do you want your boss to see what you look like and where you are when you answer the phone at 3am?" And our business clothing: with vastly more sophisticated design tools and a plethora of bespoke retail outlets, most of your wardrobe could well be virtual, only turned into actual fabric (by robots, with courier delivery) if you decide you actually need it. Want to go on vacation for a month? Pack a change of underwear and head off—you can bounce your wardrobe contents at a local fabrication store and pick up extra stuff as and when you need it.

There'll be more subtle legal and political changes, too. Right now, DRM—digital rights management—is a dirty word to most consumers, and Trusted Computing is seen as a euphemism for greedy software and hardware monopolists wanting to lock down our computers. But once large chunks of our actual public identity exists in virtual realms, we're going to badly want these technologies (with biometric authentication on top) in order to keep control of our virtual selves. Our understanding of "intellectual property" is a movable feast, and once we get used to stuff inside MMO environments not only looking like "real stuff" but being exportable into the real world, it's going to change again.

15-25 years out

MMOs are today (2007) the first really commercialy successful form of virtual reality. And the internet is something that exists inside our computers and mostly doesn't erupt out of them at random intervals.

By 2027-32, this position could well have reversed. For starters, the display tech we'll be using by then may well be built into our eyes, or at least into unobtrusive spectacle frames. (I'd bet on the latter—but then, I can't stand contact lenses either.) And for another, we'll have run down the off ramp from Moore's Law. Game over: we've hit the nanoscale, our machines are the size of molecules, and the limits to computing will be more about heat dissipation and signal paths than whether we can build a higher resolution fab line for two-dimensional chips.

Our computing resources will know where we are and how to find us. It'll be able to see us and read our expressions and sense whether we're tightening our muscles and precisely how we've positioned our feet. And anything on the net that we've authorized to look at us will be able to see us, too. Or see our avatars. It'll be a lot like the pre-modern concept of a spirit world, except we'll have access to it whenever we need to and it won't be asking for burnt offerings. The really interesting question is whether things will converge on a single overarching metaverse with games or business meetings happening in different places, or whether they'll fracture and we'll see even more divergent environments cropping up.

This tech isn't just going to stay the domain of gamers. Probably in as little as five years time it's going to be in use by other folks. Think of your local police department as playing an elaborate game in Copspace—a VR environment overlaid on a geographical map of their territory, marked up with case files and notes, with a live video evidence feed coming off the cameras on their badges. Or think of your own lifelog. Storage is so cheap that you can record everything that happens to you, using voice annotations to mark points in time so that your phone can later recall them for you.

Whether you live and play in augmented reality or virtual reality is a choice you'll make every day. Probably the two environments will overlap so that the next generation—the folks born in 2012—won't necessarily be aware of it. Do you remember growing up before computers? Before CDs? Before GPS? Before the internet? They're not going to remember growing up before MMOs, or VR, or AR. The politicians grandstanding today about the evils of computer games and the urgent need to ban Whizzumajig will look as quaint to their eyes as a Prohibition-era preacher ranting about the evils of the demon Rum.

There'll be more subtle side-effects, too. GPS is squeezing in everywhere, not just into games. We've already seen the first swarming open source mapping runs, when volunteers get together with GPS and mapping software to create detailed open source maps of an area. By the 15-25 year time frame, we're going to be forgetting what it's like to get lost by accident. Your phone (and your avatars) will always know where you are, and more importantly, how to guide you from where you are to anywhere you might want to go. Paper maps will follow log tables and slide rules into the tar sands of definitively obsolete technology, and a whole slew of movie plots will become implausible (in the same way that the cellphone blew most teen slasher film plots out of the water). Of course, if you can corrupt someone's map of the environment they move in, new types of crime become possible: imagine muggers who guide their victims astray into an off-camera blind spot, rather than stalking them through surveilled streets.

And of course, all of this is wrong.

Life's a game, and then you die

Gaming is meant to be fun. What I've been exploring isn't fun; it's the consequences of new technologies for game-play erupting into the real world.

Our idea of recreation and amusement changes over time. Today's drudgery is tomorrow's entertainment, and vice versa: table-top wargaming was a hardcore exercise for the Prussian general staff in the 19th century, while putting in several hours of Polo on horseback was mandatory for British cavalry soldiers in India—it was excellent close-order cavalry training. A lot of today's occupations would look like a game to an earlier generation, and vice versa.

One constant over time seems to be that each generation invents its own fun. MMOs are the current generation's big thing; back in the 1970s it was paper-and-pencil RPGs. By 2023-2027, it's reasonable to expect something else to come along, something that pushes the same buttons and is even more absorbing. But what will it look like?

That I can't tell you. All I know is, it'll be fun.

BOXOUT: The dirty tech truth

I'm writing this in early 2007. I'm sitting in front of a laptop with a 2GHz Core Duo processor, 2Gb of RAM, and about 0.7 terabytes of storage plugged into it. My net access comes courtest of either a 10 mbps cable modem or an early 3G mobile phone that can reach the dizzy heights of 384kbps.

This is pretty typical for early 2007. But to put it in perspective, back in 1983 the entire planet bought just 93 terabytes of storage and most cutting-edge PCs were running on 4.77MHz 8086s with maybe 128Kb of RAM and an 0.3kbps modem. Those 4.77MHz CPUs took more than one clock cycle per instruction. So they were probably running at about 1MIPS. And I'm not going to get into their graphics cards and 3D accelerators and physics coprocessors because, um, they didn't have any. Let's just say, you wouldn't want to run "World of Warcraft" on an original IBM PC 5150.

So here's my expectation for tech: if this goes on, in just under 25 years someone with a reasonably current computer will have the equivalent of 1% of today's planetary data storage on tap. Their processor will be about two thousand times as powerful as today's best, and their mobile phone (or equivalent) will have more bandwidth than today's best cable modem providers can serve. And at least one of these predictions will turn out to be laughably wrong because some currently unforseen development will have upset the trundling apple cart of progress that Moore's Law has trained us to expect.

My personal favourites for those disruptive technologies? Pick any of these three:

Firstly, a year or so ago Intel finally realized that if they kept trying to burn their way through performance bottlenecks, pretty soon their processors would need asbestos underpants: so they switched from emphasizing clock speed in gigahertz to looking at how they could deliver more MIPS, more raw computing operations, per watt of power. We've already got pretty powerful embedded ARM chips in our mobile phones—with 80Mb of RAM and a 300MHz processor, and a 2Gb memory card, my phone has more raw power than my desktop did back in 1997—so I think we can expect typical phones in 2017 to be as powerful as a high-end gaming PC in 2007. As for gaming PCs, they're going to fission—you'll have laptops, and you'll have TV sets/home entertainment centres with 60 inch screens that just happen to also be PCs with capacities to rival today's data centres.

Secondly, we're getting GPS (and the European Galileo) service everywhere, and it's getting more precise and more ubiquitous. (More on what this means when I get over my nerd-tech exposition.)

Thirdly, our communications bandwidth is going through the roof. I've gone from 56kbps to 10mbps in ten years—three orders of magnitude increase. It's only going to go higher. Early tests of hardware implementing the draft 4G telephony standards managed to get that much bandwidth over the air, and as for cables, 100 gigabit ethernet is already off-the-shelf if you've got enough money. There are hard limits—you can only cram so much data into the radio spectrum—but it's going to take us a long time to reach them, and then we'll be looking at terabits per second. At which point, somewhere before 2017, it should be possible to download enough data over a cable in *one minute* to fill every byte of hard disk space sold in 1983. And the wireless tech will catch up maybe five years later.

But remember, these are just guesses, folks. I may be an SF writer but I'm not a prophet. The disruptive tech could be quantum computers, or AI, or magic wands. I'll just be very, very surprised if nothing shows up at all.


Procedural content—for example, automatic dungeon design—is nothing new;

On the other hand, automatic 'dungeon plan' generation doesn't seem to have occurred to Blizzard at all. One thing that is very noticeable in World of Warcraft is that there is a very limited number of scenery unit designs. There may be a good number of cave systems, and even a reasonable number of them occupied by ogres, but pretty much all the ogre ones have exactly the same plan. You don't have to explore a newly discovered cave system at all, just have a quick glance to work out which standard plan it is, and then charge through to the back.

Taverns, similarly. The damned things must be prefab.

I'd have thought that at the design stage, some autogeneration of plans that human designers could then either tweak or cull would have been a nice idea.


witaly cable caar usaf deaths ?


What you got wrong was input devices. Although there are wonderful things being done with Kinect, the average MMO isn't playable even on a console yet, due to the sheer number of commands.


Quite a good piece, IIRC arent there already gangs working on MMOs using sweat-shop kids to "gold farm"? Not quite a terrorist.

The whole DLC aspect of gaming as really taken off over the past few years as a way of putting the real world into gaming i.e. Buy pepsi and get a code for a new piece of Mass Effect 2 Armour! It's definitely signs of gaming creeping into the real world. Personally it wouldnt suprise me if young kids of the next few decades wore their consoles as a collection of gloves, knee/elbow pads and HUDs then ran off into the woods to play real life WoW. Combining that with the GPS aspect and you could have custom quests linked to real world locations; Mum: "where are you off to Timmy?" Timmy: "heading out to the canal Mum, James just text me that a dragon has arrived and is killing the local hobbits, we have to save them before Billy and his orc clan get there" Cue some very confused old men fishing in the canal wondering why a bunch of 10 year olds just arrived to fight a dragon they can't see...


This may be a comment on my eyesight and tastes rather than on the tech, but I think you've over-estimated the appeal of "oh shinier graphics" and under-estimated the appeal (both positive and negative) of "oh good (or bad) plot and interesting (or dull) characters".


Blizzard is quite aware of automatic "dungeon plan" generation. They use it in the Diablo games, and have since before WoW existed!


Quite a good piece, IIRC arent there already gangs working on MMOs using sweat-shop kids to "gold farm"? I've certainly seen/heard reports to that effect, but note Charlie's snarking at the press. The reality may be one school bully in $city beating up the local nerds if they don't transfer their characters' stuff to his character.


Actually, a lot of the barriers to MMOs on consoles are on the business side, not the technical side.

The reason "Champions Online" isn't on the console (as originally planned) has nothing to do with UI complexity -- you can plug a game controller into the PC game and play it that way if you want. It's because Microsoft wouldn't let network gameplay happen for anyone who didn't have a "gold account" (ie. payed Microsoft a monthly fee), and if the user is already playing a monthly fee, it's hard for the developer to get them to pay an additional monthly fee on top of that. This problem is being mitigated to some extent by the free-to-pay model, but microtransactions aren't really a completely solved problem yet.

(I wonder if the solution is something like the ESPN3 business model? Hide the subscription fees by having your ISP being the one subscribing, passing the cost along to every subscriber without telling them, hoping that "has access to ESPN3" gives the ISP an edge in terms of consumer choice. I'm very much not a fan of this model myself, but maybe this is what'll win.)

Nintendo's situation with regard to online play in general, every aspect of it (digital download games, DLC, multiplayer), is pretty abysmal. I haven't been keeping up with the situation on the PS3, but it's my understanding that there's more than one MMO on that platform right now.


The superhero games City of Heroes / City of Villains has procedurally generated dungeons, typically made of rooms glued together to form cave complexes (or warehouse complexes, submarine complexes, office complexes, field complexes, supervillain lair complexes, etc). They'd scale up or down depending on the number of people entering the instance and what level they were.

It mostly worked pretty well, although they did get a bit same-y after a while (the warehouse complex building pieces were like an old friend), and a couple of times I did get an unfinishable instance --- mostly due to a time limit and far, far too many mobs.

But you're right, WoW doesn't seem to go in for them. I suspect this is probably because WoW's style is different: City of X would send you into instances very frequently, as most quests were set there. WoW quests are mostly set in the overworld, and instances are seen as set-piece events that are supposed to be hard. You'd never dream of trying to solo a (level-appropriate) WoW dungeon, and that's the easiest kind of instance in WoW, which soloing a City of X instance was routine.

So WoW doesn't need nearly as many and they're all special in some way, which procedural generation isn't good at.


Doing some Google research on the Cavalese Cable Car incident there, Charlie?


I'm a little surprised that no one has mentioned Minecraft yet on the procedural generation point, and a little less surprised that no one has mentioned Love. Both games are far more varied than the old "slotting templated rooms together" approach of trad-MMOs like CoH and the like. (By Glod did I get sick of traipsing through the same damn caves ten times a night.)

I'll leave it to smarter heads than mine to argue the toss about where procedural technologies go from here. The most obvious point is that they lend themselves to open-ended gameplay far better than they do the constrained, level- and objective-oriented gameplay of trad. MMO design. :)


After reading up on it a bit more it is a real problem in some countries but you're right in the sense that the headline of many newspapers when finding out that MMOs have a criminal use (shock horror, unlike everything else in our society) would be full of the usual end-of-the-world crap.

One wonders at the effectiveness of the school bully if the local nerd flags the defeat of this bully as an urgent quest (10Gold for all combatants, 1megamagic sword for who causes the most damage) an amasses a flashmob of questing nerds for his rescue.


A very good point - I've not played Diablo in many years, and forgot the many happy hours I spent in the Cow level and elsewhere, despite many WoW monsters being so obviously related to the creatures I first saw in Diablo.

(They will also, I assume, be in the original Warcraft games.)

My puzzlement was that although once a bit of scenery exists in WoW it pretty much has to remain the same (you don't want to log out in an inn, and log back in to find yourself now drowning in a canal), they haven't made more use of differing floor plans outside instances, particularly for the places one visits most, when generating them in the first place. The basic architectural unit appears to be somewhat larger than on your average housing estate where one will at least get left and right handed variants of houses.

(Hubris - solo charging ahead into Deadmines, and wondering what killed me so fast. Oh wait, what's a level 86 mob doing there? Eep!)


> What did I get wrong?

  • Galileo -- still years out today
  • Copspace - police departments are still in the early oughties as far as IT is concerned. Over here in the states, people are still arguing about recording traffic stops.
  • VR in business

A fun read, though. Thought-provoking.


The only thing I've spotted that was obviously wrong was the timeline for "Terrorists in Second Life" - that was true around the time the article was published (e.g. 5 August 2007) rather than a year out! The first real stories about it probably started in 2006 with SLLA - possibly before you were writing the article!

Kinnect gives cheap motion capture too - this weeks Gadget Show showed some of that, streaming a virtual Suzy live, capturing her movements via kinnect, streaming them to Birmingham while she was in London, and adding live rendering to make her appear in the studio. But they're quibbles about a month or a year here or there.


No fricking idea what happened there, folks -- file now fixed. (And no, I hadn't been looking that particular incident up; not for years. So it was in the original text file. How it got there I don't know.)


I think one big omission in the article is the effect that repetitive "mouse-hitting-the-feeder-bar" MMO design has on game growth. Most MMOs seem to have settled on largely the same gameplay model even though current computers (including tablets) could handle a much more nuanced roleplaying and puzzle/problem solving. Couple that with the aging content affect and what you get is a core group of gamers running to the latest game or expansion, quickly maxing their characters, getting bored, then moving to the next game or expansion release.

I see this all the time with WoW, City of Heroes, and other games. Call it the intersection of flashcrowds and MMOs. While the MMO player base is growing, it doesn't seem to be growing nearly as fast as Charlie's article predicted. In fact the only online games that are growing at the rate he indicated are casual social games like Farmville and its ilk. They trigger the same "one more thing" compulsive game play that MMOs do, but do so with much less up-front investment and they appeal to a wider audience of non-traditional casual gamers.

Whatever MMOs turn into, I bet in 20 years they will still preserve the core game play that we see today. I think the predicted tech advances are reasonable. I just don't think most of them are going to be effectively applied to MMOs. Maybe some successor game that has some MMO DNA, but I think MMOs are more a current cultural/technological artifact than something that is going to grow much past where it is today.

Still, I love crystal ball articles. I liked this one a lot.


When we get down to the procedural generation of individual items along with procedurally generated spaces we'll have a lot more options. Worlds were not only are the maps unique, but every orc is an individual, every rock is unique, and even the lichen varies.

Then you're only really limited by processing power and storage. You could conceivably have game worlds larger than the real world.


Your article seems a little MMO/RPG-centric. I'd like to talk a little about AI in strategy games.

My favorite game series has for about fifteen years now been the Total War series (turn based Civ style strategy map, real time battles). The knock on these has always been the AI controlling the enemy side. It's always seemed like an afterthought to the programmers, disastrously so in some recent releases. So you ended up with a beautiful and really pretty fun game, but that really was no challenge on the battlefield. Which is understandable - it must be extremely difficult to program an AI that can effectively utilize all of the different variables of terrain, weather, army composition, strategic goal of the battle, etc.

Rather than fix the AI coding problem, they introduced a new feature in Napoleon: Total War - drop in battles. Another player can log in to the server, drop into your ostensibly singleplayer campaign and control the enemy side during your battles. Instead of playing against a braindead AI, you get to fight a thinking person.

I haven't experienced that myself, yet (my PC was far too old to play the last two releases), but they have retained the feature for the upcoming Shogun 2 release, which I plan to play on my shiny new PC. As well as, allegedly, paying much more attention to the programmed AI (I say allegedly because they've made and broken that promise in the past).

This strikes me as an extremely innovative approach to the singleplayer market. There may be games that have done this before, but none that I'm aware of. So because of increased bandwidth, processing power, and more flexible programming, you may have the multiplayer experience enhancing the singleplayer experience to something beyond anything the programmers could code into an AI. Will this ultimately supplant the need to program AI behavior in games entirely?


One other thing we might see is a blur between RPGs, strategy, and war games. You could be playing an RPG within a world that is also hosting a grand strategy game, with the potential to transition between them as your character develops.


"IIRC arent there already gangs working on MMOs using sweat-shop kids to "gold farm"?"

Not sure if this applies to all MMOs, (defintetly eve online which i've played for a number of years) but as I understand it there was a fair bit if sweatshop "gold farming" going on in MMOs up until a couple of years ago when more sophisticated bots became available.

The guys that ran these sweatshops now just act as intermediaries for selling in game currency & items.


And that's another cool aspect of MMOs leaking IRL. With companies giving away game related features with their products (unique DLC content) how long until you can buy limited edition burgers with guild gold? Probably quite a while but I can see similar things happening


I hear theres supposed to be a game coming out for the consoles called 'dust' -which is a first person shooter set on the planets in the EVE online universe.. I just hope they let us EVE players perform orbital fire support missions...


david.given@9 states:

The superhero games City of Heroes / City of Villains has procedurally generated dungeons, typically made of rooms glued together to form cave complexes (or warehouse complexes, submarine complexes, office complexes, field complexes, supervillain lair complexes, etc).

No it doesn't.

It has a limited (and relatively small) number of static maps. Those maps are made up of reused pieces (rooms, basically) that are glued together in a variety of different ways, but they're glued together by humans. For the procedurally generated missions, it chooses a map based on group size from a pool of maps. It does not assemble a map on the fly, and the maps it chooses from were not machine-created.

Frankly, I don't think that Charlie got much right in his 5 year forecast. No noticeable number of MMO players use any kind of motion-controller, be it Wii-like or Kinect. We haven't seen any particularly more immersive in-game-world experience, whether through VR, Augmented Reality, or giant-screen-plus-voice stuff. We haven't seen a huge MMO-like audience for augmented reality games in general. 3D printing has approximately the same market penetration now that it did five years ago.

I do think that he nailed, or perhaps even underestimated, the number of people who have at least tried MMOs, though hard figures for that are extremely difficult to get.


Typo! "Another likely war forward". Did you mean "way"?


@bellinghman: I think the static scenery blocks are just a left-over from when they started designing the original game. It was cheaper that way back then, and, since people seem to like it (enough to not complain), they've stayed with what works and rakes in the big bucks.



I'm working my through your suggestion from last year (Walter Jon Williams, "Deep State") and while I've neither finished the novel, nor the entirety of this post, I am immediately struck by how similar "5 years out" is to the plot of the novel.

Great suggestion for your readers though: WJW novel is fantastic so far!


I'm fairly sure that your estimates for mobile phones are too low (they're already, I believe, covering 2/3 of the population of the planet).

On the downside, 3D printers haven't gone mass market yet, although I'm still hoping for the killer app...


Some day, I'd like to have a really serious talk about 3D printers, because I'm deeply skeptical about them. What I always come back to is this:

  • In any given 12 month period, there's maybe a 1/10 chance that anything I bought could have been wholly made with the best 3D printer currently on the market.

  • If you gave me, for free, the best 3D printer currently on the market, I struggle to think what I'd use it to create.

  • I don't think I'm atypical in this regard.

  • They sound neat. But I can't figure out what would drive any mass adoption or serious market uptake of the devices. And I don't think that they'll turn into awesome devices based solely on hobbyists.

    (And I think that rapid prototyping doesn't have enough in common with home printing that it'll just incidentally produce a great, cheap, home 3D printer)

    Is this the thread to have that discussion? Because I've been waiting years to have it, and I'm eager to hear serious people talk about it. But it seems kind of tangential to this post.



    My experience of multi player strategy games doesn't make me hopeful. I find that a fair proportion of players will simply quit at the first sign that they are losing.

    You will never get to play another human if you start the battle with a significant advantage.

    On the subject of procedural content. It is only interesting until you have seen the range of variation it is capable of producing, then it becomes very boring indeed. It's fine for scenery, but playable content is best designed.


    On the whole AI thing. I suspect we'd not be happy with replacing AI with other players. Now, are there games that entirely skip it by making themselves almost pure multi-player? Yes.

    Not everyone wants to play multi-player.

    Not everyone wants to be always online. (Or they want to play in places where they can't be online)

    Not everyone wants to have to consider other people's schedules when playing games. (Sorry Joe, I know you're about to do an attack you foolishly expect to crush me. But I'm saving the game until I can play again on ... Tuesday.) It's not bad manners to save and quit in single player games.

    And the important thing about game AI, and one of the things that make it (more) difficult is that you're actually looking for a director more then an opponent. You want an interesting challenge, one that fits the scenario. This is something different from an opponent (who might be) planning to win.

    Consider Starcraft. If you play multiplayer you expect to see cheese and people who don't know how to play and people who can trivially build up twice your army before you've started exploring outside your base.

    This is cool if that's what you're looking for.

    It's rather less cool when your historical WWII simulator decides to skip that whole Eastern Front thing in order to take out Great Britain. If you wanted an alt-history WWII sim, you'd have bought it.


    Granted 3d printers aren't the best home appliance right now, mainly because they can only really do one thing i.e. print plastic or ceramic. What will really drive home printing is the production of a machine that can sinter metal, print various plastics, print computer chips (of various types), make ceramics etc etc etc

    It's a field thats dependent on a variety of emerging and converging technologies to really become viable


    Okay, but print computer chips? Really? I'm not an expert, but I don't think that printing computer chips is coming soon to a desktop printer near you. They're expensive as hell when they're made by a full-scale industrial process in the third world, with economies of scale and economies of paying your employees like shit. They're done in clean-rooms, by people wearing the moral equivalent of hazmat suits.

    That doesn't speak to me of a process that can be wrapped up and put in a 1m x 1m x 1m cube in your house any time soon. Like, "any time in the next generation."

    And seriously, when you yank out "can print computer chips," what's left to make with 3D printers? Sure, wargame miniatures, as Charlie suggests, but I don't think that's enough to drive adoption.


    I'd suggest a direction you didn't consider, but is equally likely in the next decade, is the collision between MMOs and soap-operas.

    Soaps are mass market, millions tuning several times a week to gorp at the goings on of supposedly normal people who are actually more interesting than themselves. Whilst fighting dragons can get the interest of a fraction of a percent of the population, soaps get the mainstream.

    We're fairly convincingly moving into the age where people want more interactivity, less passivity, and that will reach soaps too; if they are to survive. Imagine that stalwart, EastEnders extended to cover an entire virtual eastend - with MMO characters and actors following scripts interacting in a pastiche of real life.

    Once console gaming gets wrapped into TVs/set top boxes, etc. I think we can expect something in this arena to be launched - something like the Sims, but interesting.


    Your comments on the behavior of multiplayer communities are spot on. I've played very few online strategy games (like, three entire scenarios), but I've heard alot of complaints similar to what you're saying.

    That's why I have hopes for this hybrid system. It's fairly random - you pick a battle in your ongoing campaign for a drop in, the server matches you up with someone who's specifically looking for a drop in battle. A new take on the subject, using multiplayer to enhance the singleplayer campaign.


    And that's why 3d printers arent in your home lol, though that is based on the current idea that we have to make chips exactly like they are now. There are other ideas for computers not focused on silicon. At the moment we are designing printers to fit the product but they are getting better and better (just google reprap and see the machines that can make 50% of themselves), im waiting for the day we will design the product to fit the printer. For info about computer chip printing you could check out howstuffworks


    In general, I think, augmented reality is winning out over virtual reality in this area. Terrorism has been less enabled than liberation movements; Facebook, Twitter, and Wikileaks seem so far to have had more impact than MMOs.


    " I think we can expect typical phones in 2017 to be as powerful as a high-end gaming PC in 2007..."

    On that point, looks as if you may have been a bit conservative:

    And in related news, a (supposedly full) port of the space MMO, Vendetta Online, is now in the Android Market, available for Tegra 2 tablets. By all accounts it works pretty well:

    It occurs to me that perhaps the single greatest threat to Mr. Stross retaining a readership and gainful writing career would be the existence of an an excellently-realized MMO on mobile devices based on Reynolds' Revelation Space universe. It's wreaking havoc on my dopamine system just contemplating the possibility [drools a bit - eyes roll back in head slightly]. Although perhaps the Conjoiner faction chat channel would be full-featured enough that he could publish novels there; something to do for the couple weeks or so while your crew is in reefersleep on the way to a distant system. ;-)


    (my last post disappeared so this may be a double) There are a lot of hardships to printing things like computer chips. ATM printers can only handle plastic and the like but progress is being made.

    Printers are getting better and cheaper (google reprap to see some printers that can print 50% of their parts) but their are obstacles. For more info on printing chips check this article on how stuff works


    "Paper maps will follow log tables and slide rules into the tar sands of definitively obsolete technology," NO

    Shat-Nav is a total disaster in a well-mapped country like the UK. Really dangerous too, if you are driving a car. I'm in favour of banning the damned things.

    dsartao @ 2 WTF?

    MMO/RPG's generally YAWN Seriously, I really don't hthink it/they is/are going to make even a slight ripple on the world. Sorry!


    3D printers: They're being used NOW to make replacement human organs derived from the patients' own cells.

    In the future, "Our chef proudly serves his own liver" might mean what it says.

    Of course, this isn't yet home use.


    Well Charlie,

    At first glance, I notice that motion capture suits arrived minus the suits. Second Life will need a third life if it's ever going to be important again. MMOs - at least to my view - didn't receive that much more attention in recent years as expected back then. Probably because they are in the uncanny valley of their (ongoing) growth being yesterdays news, while not yet being quite exciting enough for most media.

    Also, the type of games is a very different one - besides WoW they are mostly cheap/free games, paid for by in-game stores - and most of those are centred in Asia (correct me if my impression is wrong, I didn't research this).

    Tablet PCs completely slipped under the radar of 2007, so did their gaming potential. Nobody is really talking about UMPCs any more than ever before - but we got netbooks and I'm happy about that. (As a member of the rare species who use one as their main computer.)

    There is the potential break-through of 3D-displays we may see in the mainstream within the next few years. (The first time I saw one was 11 years ago, in the world expo in Hanover. So this should not have come as the surprise it did.)

    Geo-Caching remained a fad that didn't grow to be much bigger (yet).

    Given current developments, we might see Kinect LARPing in a few years. The Kinect can also emulate a portable, much improved, blue-screen - by showing only a limited volume of the space in front of it. Improvements of the technology will yield StarWars like holograms, albeit on computer screens. (Through either head-tracking or 3D-displays or a combination of both.)

    Video-phones may become much more acceptable, if you can limit what the other guy can see to your head or part of your body - or be replaced by a computer-generated avatar altogether.

    In other news, my current phone has lower specs than yours 5 years ago ...


    Given a lathe and so on, I'm not sure what I'd create. However, if I start making stuff, whatever tools I have would get adapted to it and vice versa.

    I expect there will be a Zipf curve, with most of the people with maker gadgets using them to produce instances of something they found a design for, and only a few producing new designs, and yet the number of modifications may creep up with time.


    A tad conservative - "even by 2023 I doubt that much more than 40% will have mobile phones"

    While these number seem to include multiple handsets/person, Wikipedia seems to suggest that current uptake in 2011 in 72%

    The uptake of mobile phones has been one of the fastest phenomenons the world has ever seen.


    One spot where you were way too conservative:

    "By the 15-25 year time frame, we're going to be forgetting what it's like to get lost by accident. Your phone ... will always know where you are, and more importantly, how to guide you from where you are to anywhere you might want to go. Paper maps will follow log tables and slide rules into the tar sands of definitively obsolete technology..."

    You put this in the 2022-2032 frame, but here in 2011 it's already pretty much a done deal.


    The heck with producing designs. Give yourself a full library of absolutely everything that it is currently feasible to make with a desktop printer. What actual object would you produce?

    You aren't going to get started on any kind of adoption curve if people can't answer that in a way that makes other people say, "Oh, yeah, I'd make that, too!"

    The problem with hand-waving of the "I'm sure I'd think of something" sort is that... somebody actually has to answer the question.


    I don't know about omnipresent GPS being a done deal ... I live in a suburb of Indianapolis in an area that's covered very well by cell towers, spend most of my traveling hours in and around the city, and there are still times when my car and/or my phone "forgets" where I am. I tend to assume that would happen much more often in less-traveled areas (Indiana consists mostly of farmland and smallish hills, plus a handful of small cities and one large one; my area is the exception and not the rule here), and more often in less well-to-do countries than here, if well-to-do is an accurate word these days.

    Motion capture, well ... here it is, 2011, and I've yet to see a commercially-available system that is accurate and easy to use for anyone. The Wii is great for microgames and terrible for "serious" gaming - even with Wii Plus, the accuracy of the controller leaves a lot to be desired, and that's not exactly motion capture either. (Never mind additional peripherals you can get: I made the mistake of buying NFL Training Camp, not realizing that it came with only two additional sensors - one for an arm and one for a leg - and that they would likely be as inaccurate as the Wiimote.)

    I don't have experience with Move or Kinect, but from what little I've read, I'm not sure they're really where OGH was hoping we'd be next year.

    I'm not sure we're ready to move into mo-cap gaming anyway. I don't mind the idea of getting a little exercise during a gaming session, but I'm not sure I'm in good enough shape to spend six hours playing Diablo IV on my feet, swinging my arms, dodging and rolling. (Not to mention that my furry housemates would greatly disapprove of the latter activities. They're not big fans of anything that involves me and no lap.) And without a good feedback system, it's really difficult to get into a game like that. I can turn sideways to the screen and wiggle my Wiimote-bat as I wait for a pitch in a baseball sim, but it doesn't really work if I can't see "bat" meet ball or feel the contact when I hit.

    Sports gaming brings up another issue mentioned above: AI. (From experience in that environment, I can attest to the average online gamer's unwillingness to accept a loss. I suspect a lot of that comes from learning to play offline and to beat the AI by learning its weaknesses ... gamers on that path then move up to online gaming and discover that the "world" is full of people just like them, only better.)

    Sports games have also had seriously deficient AI for, well, decades. Increased "difficulty" generally means the AI's players being made to move faster, your players being nerfed in various ways, or both, and that's just with respect to the live-action piece of the games. Long-term planning (contracts, trades/transfers and the like) seem to be beyond pretty much any development team's ability to create well, and perhaps it's because those are the hardest patterns to create, patterns in an environment where there are many different ways to "win" and one can never be sure which ways one's opponents have adopted.

    I'm not sure that even 15-25 years down the road, we'll have the all-encompassing HUDs that many people have suggested. It's not that they wouldn't be cool - I'm the person who keeps looking for additional windows to open while proving in Football Manager 201X that my middle name should be "Sacked" - but that I think most people aren't going to want, need, or use that much data. Any advanced display tech that will be commercially viable on a large scale will have to fit in with our environment, not appear in front of it.

    Having virtual pop-up windows and the like is a nice touch for a commercial, but probably not the sort of thing you want when you're walking on a crowded city street - especially if you live in a city where walking is the norm rather than the exception! (Maybe cars will have switched away from fossil fuels to ... um ... something else, and maybe in some places we'll simply have switched away from cars.) What's more useful to the average person would probably be highlighting, paths, that sort of thing. Looking for an address? It's that building on the right, the glowing one. Which way to turn? Follow the red path on the road. Can't find your friends with the tickets? She's the one with the exclamation point over her head.


    In a way you missed out on fence sitters like me who are still waiting for digital games to get more realistic and more "plastic" at the same time. But will they ever, within our lifetimes?

    I gave up on PC/video games more than 25 years ago when I saw that the Sim City stuff that I really liked wasn't evolving at all. It got a bit more realistic visually over the years but it was the same old, same old in terms of "plasticity", that is the capacity for a user to play with a lot of environment variables without going in the coding.

    I keep on reading the details of those games that seem to enhance some aspect of plasticity, like the character modifications section in Mass Effect for instance, but they're always a small, tiny part of the game, of any game.

    The thing is, I also read a lot of ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) CGI and UI papers and stuff. Each year I see so many things that they could be going into but aren't. It makes me think that somehow the game developers aren't too imaginative when it comes to using available computer power and software. Or maybe the producers/financiers are holding them back, wanting to bet on "sure things", that is previous hits only.

    So, in addition to missing the fence sitters you might also have missed the sad dearth of imagination, in this domain, when it comes to progress in games development over the next 20 years or so.

    What actual object would you produce?

    Plastic action figures. You know, for kids.

    Disney et al would supply model blueprints via the interwebs.

    (perhaps these are personalised to the user - eg avatars from some notional MMO aimed at kids)

    3d printer manufacturers would re-use the current overpriced-ink-cartridge business model with plastic feedstock.

    DRM would ensure that only official Disney plastic feedstock can be used to print Disney brand characters.

    There's something along these lines in Cory Doctrow's 'Makers'.


    If given a 3d printer, I would give it to a group designing prosthetics for amputees with a very rapid design-test-refine cycle. Tanstaafl Manny had a bunch of different arms for different occasions, but our vets get one set that fits poorly with a months long wait. Meanwhile, they get a fucking hook. Plastics and ceramics fabricated with sub-mil tolerance overnight seems like it would hit the spot.

    The standardized "look" that so many furnishings and domestic items have, encouraged by huge chains like WalMart or IKEA, is gradually going to become a rarity, replaced by a much more diverse range of products.

    I think the medium term will be interesting, when desktop 3D printers get somewhat more common, and commercial services go from being a serious "prototyping products" thing to just a normal way of making anything you want. My friend, the model railway fan and LEGO stop-motion filmmaker is certainly going to come up with uses. But bigger objects might stay expensive for some time though, so what I think is going to happen is customization.

    For tech nerds first, of course – custom "gaming PC" parts maybe, ipad cases, that sort of thing. Then... well, I'm pretty happy with the basic shape of my IKEA bookshelves, but some Bathsheeba Grossman style fractal bookends perhaps? That'd be neat. Dividers for kitchen drawers that precisely fit what I intend to keep in them? Yes please.

    how long until you can buy limited edition burgers with guild gold?

    Is this the part where I get to mention Bitcoin? (It's an electronic/cryptographic peer-to-peer currency basically.)

    The community around it might not get their libertarian/cypherpunk free-from-government intervention economic utopia just yet, but I can see it being actually useful, right now, as a medium of exchange between various in-game currencies. (Plus, you can actually buy some things with it too.)

    53: zlionsfan @ 47: I don't know about omnipresent GPS being a done deal ... I live in a suburb of Indianapolis in an area that's covered very well by cell towers, spend most of my traveling hours in and around the city, and there are still times when my car and/or my phone "forgets" where I am. I tend to assume that would happen much more often in less-traveled areas (Indiana consists mostly of farmland and smallish hills, plus a handful of small cities and one large one; my area is the exception and not the rule here), and more often in less well-to-do countries than here, if well-to-do is an accurate word these days.

    GPS signals actually work better in wide open spaces. The signals the sats put out are incredibly weak. Requires serious DSP to extract it from the background noise. Which is why it took 20 years before it was affordable for the masses. But another side effect of this is that in urban areas the tall buildings or non radio porous walls tend to block the signals. But on the other hand you can usually get a great signal lock out in the middle of a cornfield.

    In any given 12 month period, there's maybe a 1/10 chance that anything I bought could have been wholly made with the best 3D printer currently on the market.

    The RepRap people have basically gone with using it for making custom parts that can be used to glue together off-the-shelf parts (for making the printer itself). The "print a whole product" idea might not be the best way to think about it, IMHO.

    I know what I'd use it for; I'd print a replacement battery holder/casing for my old phone (and then buy a fresh Li-ion battery). The way to make money as a phone maker seems to be to force upgrades when batteries fail, and making your own spare parts would be a nice option.


    Biggest miss is not acknowledging that the large majority of people will simply get stuck playing a mindless addictive (anti)social game like Farmville, as feeding off of long-term addiction is more profitable than making a creative game experience.


    "Five years is an interesting time. It takes roughly five years to develop a game."

    That is because gaming became an utterly hits-driven industry, akin in statistical distribution to movies, books, and television series. Why else would the network have paid Charlie Sheen $2,000,000+ per episode while he binged on crack and pr0n stars?

    Capitalism and its "creative destruction" being what they are, new paradigms have emerged, which make movies, books, and television series cheaper and faster to develop. e-books you know about. TV series developed faster and cheaper, you may not, if you don't follow the trade journals. Note that Tosh.0 is a profitable TV series outranking others on Comedy Central, and is essentially a TV show meta-blogging stuff on the web.

    On the blog of the TV of the blogs, we get comments such as this, related to gamers (a key part of the show's demographics):

    Posted by: Mike Pomranz | March 9, 2011 at 4:00pm

    I probably spent about half my childhood blowing into Nintendo games. Once your machine reached a certain age, that was the only surefire way to get it to work.

    Then I reached a certain age, discovered alcohol, and my childhood days ended.

    Well, now someone over at Andy's Electronics Projects (Andy, maybe?) has combined the best of both worlds: a game called DrunkenNES that uses a breathalyzer stuck in an old NES cartridge to create a playable NES drinking game.

    You blow in the cartridge just like old times and the game tosses your name up on an 8-bit leaderboard.

    Not sure how you "beat" a game where the drunkest person wins. Death by alcohol poisoning?

    Regardless, as cool as this is, the hardest NES drinking game will always be when you drunkenly tell your buddies you can TKO Mike Tyson in the second round of Punch-Out!! and then they force you to prove it.

    [end quote from blog of TV show of blogs]


    Okay, plastic action figures and battery cases are perfectly good answers to the question of, "What would you make if you got a top-of-the-line 3D printer for free." But it's pretty evident that nobody's going to pay thousands of dollars for a device that makes action figures and battery cases.

    And before you say, "Well, it won't cost thousands of dollars soon," ask yourself whether you're putting the cart before the horse. What is going to drive down costs if nobody will buy the present models?

    Prosthetic limbs are obviously best addressed through the related field of rapid prototyping, which has similar but distinct needs.

    Any kind of desktop fabbing that only produces components that you then have to use skilled labor to turn into a useful end product is pretty much excluding the vast majority of the potential market place.


    Ross: No. Remember, I wrote we're going to be forgetting what it's like to get lost by accident.

    Right now, if your phone craps out you can nip into a convenience store and buy a map. And you know how maps work and you can figure your location out from one.

    Back in 1975-80, if your pocket calculator crapped out in a maths exam you knew how to do long division/long multiplication, get square roots via approximation, and how to use log tables or a slide rule. By 1990? Not so much.

    It takes about a generation to lose that know-how, once the tech arrives.

    (Also, I suspect you've never had the !joyful experience of travelling internationally with a smartphone and seeing its IQ drop by 80 points because of the cost of international data roaming. Another obstacle that needs to be steamrollered flat before the old skills become completely obsolescent.)


    Erm I don't know where you got that info but you are way off. Regenerative medicine has barely even begun to start producing therapeutics let alone given us the technology to print organs. You may have heard that from the hypothetical organ printer that some universities are perusing but to this date no-where has managed to clone a fully functional fully sized organ fit for transplant. We are still a long way off (for my credentials in this field im a scientist working in nanotech + regenerative medicine)


    I can think of three processes driving the cost down,

    Firstly its advantageous to some industries to have more versatile printing machines. If you can run your factory with 1/4 of the floor space because most of your machines now have been replaced with specialised printers you save a heck of a lot of money (rates, electric, heating etc).

    Secondly armed forces and their budget departments love the idea of dropping a factory the size of a truck into the battlefield. The maintenance cost of equipment drops considerably if your engineers can print parts to order/

    Thirdly 3d printers benefit like all products do from advances in other fields. The internet wasn't designed for half the stuff it has made possible but it has. I can't think of anything off the top of my head but somebody trying to make a versatile 3D printer from scratch in 2021 could have an easier time than someone in 2011 simply because other technologies have come out to make that task easier

    61: 12 Para 2 - I like your thinking; I'd be in it (but don't MMO, preferring actual plots to a series of dungeon delves).

    1. In any given 12 month period, there's maybe a 1/10 chance that anything I bought could have been wholly made with the best 3D printer currently on the market.

  • If you gave me, for free, the best 3D printer currently on the market, I struggle to think what I'd use it to create.
  • OK, apologising in advance for lack of knowledge of the state of the art here, but as I understand it you can 3D print (via various sintering techniques) thermoplastic, metal, glass or ceramics, so that's:

    cutlery crockery kitchen utensils home furnishings (coathooks, lampshades, that sort of thing; probably not anything bigger because of the size of the printer) some spare parts for your bike if you have one, or indeed your car decorations - sculptures, etc toothbrushes

    I'm just thinking of things in the category "stuff I've bought that can fit in a shoebox, isn't made of wood or fabric, and doesn't have any moving parts or electronics"


    I see exactly where you're coming from. I'm still on a PS2, due to a (perceived) lack of plot-driven RPGs on PS3, X360 and Wii.

    OTOH, my sis, who would not be described as a gamer, plays Farmville, Cityville and Priestville! (as do several of her friends, and one of one of her friends cats plays Farmville.)


    Now explain why people watch Bartenders and Horronation Street (Aussie soaps excluded as they at least feature people more attractive than ourselves). ;-)


    49, and others - Detailing sets and accessories for model kits.

    Some time ago I started contemplating an RAF Concorde recce platform as in "The Fuller Memorandum". This led to my discovering an illustration of a "Concbomber" armed with 3 pylon-mounted Blue Steel stand-off weapons, and hence to the question, where can I find 3 1:144 scale replica Blue Steels.


    "Secondly armed forces and their budget departments love the idea of dropping a factory the size of a truck into the battlefield. The maintenance cost of equipment drops considerably if your engineers can print parts to order"

    Actually no. What armed forces really want is a method of getting stuff from their stores system to where it's needed as expeditiously and as cheaply as possible. A printer in a forward firebase is another piece of junk that will break and need repairing and which will need specialist technicians who don't actually do any of the warfighting to keep it running. It will have to be fed with power, a major financial and logistical expense for an expeditionary military force as well as the many different types of specialist feedstocks (plastics of various kinds, metal powders for sintering, ceramics etc.) all of which need trucks and grunts to get them to the FFB in the first place.

    Most military logistics problems centre around moving fuel and ammo around, sometimes over contested ground where the road convoys have to fight or bribe their way through. Next in importance is food and water for the grunts. The rest of the loadout for operations support (spare uniforms, medical supplies, porn) fits in the corners of the trucks, cargo planes and helos delivering the massy basics day to day. Anything that could be printed can be ordered and delivered on a Fedex-style next-day basis from an on-line catalogue (or worst case, eBay).


    I agree with that however perhaps in a more total war setting a fab lab with the ability to dismantle local supplies and print equipment would in some cases be preferable to shipping supplies in (especially if supplies are incredibly low and getting resources to troops is a rare thing).

    However the idea doesnt just stretch to troops in combat, humanitarian missions to disaster zones may benefit from having a mobile factory, especially in a country where there are limited transport routes with many remote areas. Double especially if equipment can be broken down and rebuilt


    Take a look at the size of the 3D-printed stuff here:


    Where is the power to come from, to run these NGO cornucopias? Fuel will have to be carted in, truckload by truckload to run the generators to provide the power to melt and fuse the feedstocks as well as run the factory's control systems. If the roads are that bad then the fuel won't get through in anything like the sorts of quantities required or the fuel need will eat into the transport budget for, say, medicines or food or water.

    If you want to see a good workable example of localised third-world "fabbing" have a look at Peshawar and the back-street weapons making shops there. Foot-powered lathes and hand-filing using cheap child labour produce good copies of modern firearms which are made using CNC machines and such in the West. A fabber would be of little use there given the lack of electrical power but boys and girls are cheap.


    I can still do those, and I left school (for uni) in 1997.


    I'll admit that I'm not sitting on fully formed blueprints of how to build something like this, merely pointed out potential uses. As for power, solar? as for feedstock, the environment? Who knows, its one potential use for a fully mature fablab.

    The question started with the likelyhood of a 3d printer then went on to potential markets. Personally I don't attribute my second proposal to be the strongest and it probably wont be the driving force. The tech would be useful to make factories more efficient but utilising systems of generalist printers, if this eventually leads to a mature fablab system it could be useful in war and humanitarian actions or it may not. It all depends on what the application is, what's the need and just how good our fablab really is (does it print plastic coat hooks or does it turn rocks, soil and water into a multitude of tools).


    So would it be possible to fabricate hidden weapons for terrorism?


    Definitely there's a lack of decent plot-driven RPGs for non-PS2 consoles these days, but then it could be said there's a lack of decent plot-driven RPGs in general. I own a PS2 and an XBox360 - I have more games I enjoy for the PS2 than I do for the Xbox, and given the state of what's in the gaming shops at the moment, I'm not likely to be getting anything new until at least when Final Fantasy XV (if they produce it for a console) comes out. On the other hand, I'd point to FFXI as an example of an MMO which is designed to be run on a console - according to the husband of a friend of mine, it's actually easier to play using a console-style controller than a keyboard.

    As far as things go, I'm a fan of RPGs, but I prefer the ones where there's a plot to keep me interested in playing. WoW did it by moving the character about the world all over the place - each area had its own particular storyline, and you moved around the world dealing with the little bits, and gradually getting clues to the overall plot of the world. But then, one of the things which irritated me about WoW (and most other MMOs, to be honest) was the "one eternal day" style of things - your character kills off the nasty mooks, or rescues the distressed damsel, but ten minutes later, she's back in the same damn situation and the mooks are just as nasty and numerous as ever. Bit too much like real life (more specifically, housework) for my liking - you put in all this effort, and then it has to be done again tomorrow.


    I thought this had been discussed on this blog before and here it is, from about 45 onwards


    For procedural design of entire cities check out this blog (especially the videos to post 12 and 4)


    Wouldn't it be cheaper to teach the terrs proper ninjitsu; the stuff where you learn how to murder someone with a pencil or a plastic ballpoint and suchlike?


    Low volume applications are key to the use cases for 3D printers, at least for the foreseeable future. As Charlie pointed out in his post, they can't compete on cost with mass production. As a result, his prediction of things like sofas becoming bespoke designs is the only way that mass production is going to pushed aside for fabbing. Even that is only for customers willing to pass up the cheapest possible price -- not Wal-Mart customers, for sure...


    Why would you do that? That would be too hard to stop and too potentially successful in application! (insert smiley here)


    As I sort of hinted at in #65, things like model accessories. Presently, these are mostly made by someone way more talented as a sculptor than myself making a master from scratch, making a silicone rubber mould from the master, then pouring cyano-acrylic resin into the mould, which is:- 1) Labour intensive, therefore expensive. 2) Requires a new set of masters for each scale you make the set in.

    3D printing would allow you to use, say, Autocad drawings as a master for several scales, and safer materials than cyano-acrylic resin for the actual parts.

    Your start-up costs might be higher, but you don't have to hold parts you might not be able to sell, and you might be able (if the printer s/w allows) be able to sell me an encrypted file that I can then "print" to my required scale. I think I may have just discovered a legitimate use for DRM!!


    Plus, even "Naturist Airways" are still going to need full body scans (or cavity searches) if airline "security" ever catches on to this stuff.


    See also "Rule 34" (coming to a bookstore near you this July).


    I'm coming at this from the opposite end, so I'll throw out a couple of different ideas:

  • I've never been in MMO, and I'm more interested in reality than the games. Most of my real life friends are in the same boat. And we're aging.
  • Looking at demographics, I'd predict that MMOs will stabilize and/or die away, just as paper RPGs have. Unless, that is they catch on with the youth of the developing world.

    Another problem is that MMOs may get into some of the problems that eBay has: frauds and scams. There are whole segments of eBay (Chinese swords was one of the first bad examples) where 99% of what you see is some sort of fake or scam. When that happens, people will leave games in droves, and they will be the domain of the gold farmers.

  • Getting lost. Jeez, you guys never get away from cities, do you? I can drive an hour and have no cell-phone AND no GPS. It's called a deep canyon in a tall mountain range. In fact, my old Garmin II handles such situations better than my newer (and more accurate) GPS.
  • And don't forget that our entire GPS culture is an artifact of the space race, which is an spin-off of the Cold War. Without the various navigation satellites that the great powers put up to support their militaries, this technology wouldn't exist. You might want to be concerned about whether the US and Russia can keep lofting new GPS satellites to replace the old ones. If these satellites start dying away, we might see people repurposing cell phone towers to enable local GPS, with all the interesting local politics this implies.

    As for paper maps, I'm about to print one off of Google Earth, because I'll need to write on it. What's that? I should blow hundreds on an iPhone to do the same thing with less accuracy? Sure thing, boss. Oops, it's done printing, and I'm ready to go.

  • As for 3D printers, I'm looking forward to one, although I have no idea what I'll use it for. That might actually be the problem. We've got too much stuff, and the resin powders used in plastics is turning into a huge environmental problem (ref: North Pacific Gyre Garbage Patch). The bottleneck here is how technology collides with increasing environmental regs and the ongoing collapse of marine ecosystems. Plankton die from eating plastic, after all, and then what do the fish eat? I'd love to see a green 3D printer, perhaps printing in cellulose or something similar.
  • 83:


    "As for power, solar? as for feedstock, the environment?"

    DARPA recently put out a blue sky tender for research into using small nuclear reactors in forward bases to make fuel out of the atmosphere + local organics + waste (including that coming out of the soldiers, thus saving another logistics/health problem). Basic idea is that given lots of heat and some smart gadgets pyrolysis of organics and syngas forming and onwards conversion to liquid hydrocarbon fuel might well be easier than getting all the necessary fuel for operations through insurgent held territory.

    OK, this is a long way away from home fabbing (unless we get table top fusion power :-), but if it does work there's probably a humanitarian use for it in disaster relief.


    Your five year prediction in terms of political and legislative maneuvering wasn't quite right, especially in the context of SL. Turns out LL went and pushed through their own stupid policies in fear that a government might push them through first (notably the elimination of gambling, which probably happened about the time you were writing this, followed by rules against having child avatars in areas open to adults -- for fear that pedos getting off on 'age play' would then attack real children I suppose -- and eventually towards moving all the porn to its own continent (which is why the mainland is now abandoned -- porn was really the only major growth area in SL industry)). If there has been any actual legislation relating to online games specifically since 2007 I haven't heard about it.

    Okay, plastic action figures and battery cases are perfectly good answers to the question of, "What would you make if you got a top-of-the-line 3D printer for free." But it's pretty evident that nobody's going to pay thousands of dollars for a device that makes action figures and battery cases.

    I'm reasonably certain they've already dropped below the thousand dollar mark with Makerbots and RepRap kits, as long as you're up for putting the pieces together yourself. OK, so that's not exactly "top of the line", but it's good enough for utilitarian low-res household stuff like that bent thing that broke off in the dishwasher last week, and it is good enough for that today already. Extrapolate a decade ahead, and things should get more interesting (for a decent price).

    But I wouldn't buy one of those myself just yet either, it is still a bit too much fiddling just to be able to print, plus it would probably mostly sit idle while I continue to fail at 3D modeling. On the other hand, together with a couple of friends, spending maybe a hundred euros each or so...

    (Nothing wrong with "it wouldn't be useful to me" of course – not everyone has an immediate burning need for a soldering iron or a sewing machine either.)


    And don't forget that our entire GPS culture is an artifact of the space race, which is an spin-off of the Cold War. Without the various navigation satellites that the great powers put up to support their militaries, this technology wouldn't exist. You might want to be concerned about whether the US and Russia can keep lofting new GPS satellites to replace the old ones.

    I don't think you really need to be concerned about that. Think how dependent the US military itself is on GPS... they're hardly likely to let all that kit become useless. Go back to inertial navigation and laser designators and (horrors) paper maps and compasses? Not likely.


    I guess my name is "nobody" then :). I purchased a Cupcake CNC from Makerbot in December, and have printed the following things:

  • Project boxes for electronics projects
  • Replacement legos
  • picture hangers
  • cable clips
  • heart shaped boxes + lid for my daughter
  • blobby monsters
  • Also, in response to other comments - you can print on a makerbot using corn-based cellulose right now. MakerBot sells spools of the stuff. They also just rolled out water dissolvable filament, which expands the potential universe of printable objects considerable (you have support material now that you can easily remove).

    This machines are twitchy, ornery bastards that get miscalibrated if you look at them wrong - but they're a hell of a lot of fun too. Kids love them.


    Didn't you have to re-plan Rule 34 when it became apparent how dodgy some real-world financial trading was? I think the financial mess has had an effect on the timing of what you predicted.


    By the way, so that people don't think I'm just obstructionist opposed to home fabrication: I sat down and thought for a long time about what physical goods I do buy a lot of, and I came up with two things:

  • Food.
  • I don't think that any kind of Star Trek like food-replicator is coming in the near future.

  • Clothing.
  • Now this is interesting. Obviously, everyone uses clothing, and uses it in quantity. It's not like action figures or prosthetic limbs. It's not even like home decoration things, where, sure, I bought some stuff to sit on my shelf that could have been fabbed -- five years ago when I was decorating my apartment.

    I buy a couple of pairs of jeans a year, and they aren't super-cheap. And then more shirts, and obviously tons of socks and underwear.

    I'm a household of one, so I wouldn't be ideal for this, but what if we had a machine that could turn denim, rivets, thread, and a zipper (or buttons) into a pair of jeans, any size, any cut, in a matter of an hour or two, no operator skill required? Even if that cost $1,000, if you were a household of four and most of you wear jeans on a daily or at least weekly basis, it seems kind of likely that you could get your money back from that, right?

    I know it doesn't have the sci-fi sex appeal of a general-purpose fabber, but it seems realistic with today's technology, and like it fills a real demand that exists right now, rather than being something where you're like, "Well, if everyone had them, maybe we'd figure out a serious use for them."

    God knows that I spend a TON more money on clothing than I spend on anything that could realistically be fabbed in the foreseeable future. I suspect that the overwhelming majority of people do.


    A fabber using wax would make my lost wax casting attempts a lot easier, since at the moment everything has to be carved by hand.
    If easy flexible design is possible, I could bang out any non-ferrous metal part you needs quickly and easily using lost wax or plastic original and sand box.
    Definitely a hobby use, but one that would also have some appeal for people who try and live off the grid or recycle stuff, or at the last resort for making replacement parts for very old things which no longer have spares available.


    Since we subscribe to Certain Magazines, we found out that the porn community is becoming interested in the motion-capture bits. One suspects that could drive a large number of scenarios, and bring in a lot of investment money.

    Also, I haven't seen any discussion of the modding community. Lots of people have graphics capabilities and lots of spare time, and are developing things that are hard to tell from Real Games (far beyond the old Barney patch for Doom). For instance, FFXI now has a new class, the Zombie Tarutaru (one of the really short guys), due to a volunteer design. So far the modding community and the professional game designers haven't gotten too Horribly Legal about this, since it appears the best modders end up being hired. FFXI also has no player-on-player conflict save through very formal interactions (Ballista), which resolves a large number of personal problems and allows Fresh Meat such as myself to live long enough to gain experience.

    However, FFXI is having serious glitches on the PS2 console where most people started during some of their updates, and is not so subtly encouraging people to play on their computers instead (sigh, I love bashing orcs on the big screen, sigh).


    bartenders and horronation street :-they feature people who are realistic looking having a really bad time, schadenfreude I think its called

    in the olden days the 'viewers' would have been twitching the curtains and watching their neighbours having bad times. now they dont have to sit at the window, and they have guaranteed disasters to gloat over


    Actually military organisations can cope with the loss of GPS, LORAN and all the other things that make life (and death) so much easier these days. The First Commandment of the military anywhere and anywhen is "Shit happens" and competent militaries plan for it and train for it.

    Vehicles from warships down to one of Uncle Sam's mules have multiple position-determining fallbacks including inertial navigation systems, maps and compasses and even sextant starsights and dead reckoning if all else fails -- there's a reason Naval officers still have wind-up wristwatches that get checked against an accurate time signal as often as is convenient and bombers and reconnaissance aircraft still have astrodomes in the roof for the navigator to take starshots. Guided missiles and fire-and-forget weapons have (multiple) inertial guidance packages in case the gold-plated GPS fails or is jammed. Etc. etc.

    Civilians don't go to great lengths to acquire and learn how to use such fallbacks but someone aiming for watch officer certification on a cargo ship must be able to drive a sextant as well as be able to interrogate a GPS receiver.


    "Erm I don't know where you got that info but you are way off. Regenerative medicine has barely even begun to start producing therapeutics let alone given us the technology to print organs." From news stories; though I may have misinterpreted the method.
    Here's one, via Google News: Boys Given Lab-Grown Urethras OK 6 Years Later WebMD - Daniel J. DeNoon - ‎Mar 8, 2011‎ The boy most recently treated is now 15 years old and received his lab-grown urethra three years ago. The boy first treated is now 16 years old and received his lab-grown urethra over six years ago. "Tissue-engineered urethras, repaired with patients' ... Lab-Grown Urethra Used to Replace Damaged Tube BusinessWeek Urethras can now be made in the lab -- and they work Los Angeles Times Scientists grow viable urethras from boys' cells Reuters CBS News - TIME all 336 news articles »


    Your idea of custom drawer inserts is brilliant! I would build a set of those (or buy them from you, custom neighborhood fab shop anyone?) along with a rack that fits all the loose sockets I have rattling around in my 30lb tool box in the garage.


    To tie the MMO theme together with the 3D printing aspect, when I was playing EVE, this is how the manufacturing economy works in the game. You buy a blueprint to build a weapon or a ship, and a liscense to make a certain number of fabs. You then lease a commercial fab line for how ever many hours you need it and supply the needed mineral inputs.


    Another mention of in home fab systems, my wife is crafter type and makes homeade card for friends etc. She bought a machine called a cricket last christmas which is basically a 2D knife die cutter. It makes intricate and complex patterns of card stock in a few minutes, the output is scalable for size and width. It also runs catridge programs for different patterns, which I'm sure I own a few hundred $ worth of by now lol.


    Charlie made on interesting prediction that almost no-one has been commenting on:

    'What we're going to see is an explosion of new types of game. In addition to current-day MMOs, we're going to see systems that tie into social networks: MMOs that provide social fora similar to GuildCafe as part of the experience, not necessarily directly in-game but not out of game either.'

    Farmville and its like come under this heading and are hugely important to the development of the gaming industry - a substantial chunk of where Facebook is expecting to get its future income from is by taking a cut of the income from what is already a billion-dollar sector. What I'm expecting to see are games which have some actual gaming in and allow players to meet in-game, work together, and make genuine new social links as a result. To some extent this happens in the associated bulletin boards now, and it's fairly common for there to be face-to-face meetings and even conventions.

    There has been one game where players have met in this way and formed strong community links as a result. This is Big Fish Games' Faunasphere. One reason it works is that there is no PvP element so players can meet in-game and work together without dropping out of the interaction because they're outclassed.

    Faunasphere is about to close, because BFG has recently acquired a new director who believes (like one commentor above) that MMOs and social gaming are going to die out for demographic reasons. My 5-year prediction is that in time to come that guy will be mentioned in the same pitying style as the man who didn't sign up the Beatles.


    We're having a lot of rain and some floods in NoVA and the TV just showed a guy whose Google map told him that he could still go down a road that is blocked because it's flooded. It was his second try with Google and he ended up getting directions from the newsperson.


    How well do the replacement legos fit?

    For instance, how does the fit compare with the perfect fit of authentic original legos and the sometimes wonky fit of Lego competitors who produce "compatible" bricks?


    [machine for bespoke clothing]

    I know it doesn't have the sci-fi sex appeal of a general-purpose fabber,

    That absolutely depends on the clothes, of course! Especially when it comes to certain sci-fi TV shows, I'd argue that the sex appeal would absolutely be on their side. ;)

    Sorry, could not resist.


    "A fabber using wax would make my lost wax casting attempts a lot easier, since at the moment everything has to be carved by hand."

    This in fact exists; ZCorp fabbers can do it. It seems to work OK with Makerbot ABS plastic, too. The big problem with most fabbers (one exception: Sanders, who owns a crucial patent) is that they tend to produce rather rough objects.


    Yeah, the RPG field on the 360 (and thus on the PS3 as well, usually) is pretty barren. There's Oblivion, Mass Effect, and ... um ... yeah.

    Dragon Age is OK, but there are a lot of "I'm just here" NPCs. Fallout 3 was fun, but there was a lot of "take item X to location Y" stuff that didn't really add anything to the story.

    It's kind of sad when a good bit of my RPG fun is either playing Oblivion (a game that came out shortly after launch and one that I've completed at least 2-3 times) or Diablo II.

    Hopefully November 11 will bring another winner ... the Elder Scrolls series has never done me wrong.


    Jim B. @ 98 Got any useful LINKS for this "cricket" device, anywhere?


    I'd be interested too, for myself and/or as a possible present for my sis.


    Such is the all-consuming might of Google that, on a search for "cricket cutter", is the third result.


    Nice photos, but that original is a little rougher than I would like. But they're getting there at least. Now if you could create the feedstock yourself using organic debris of one kind or another that would be great.


    Thanks for the effort, but you've come up with a US website for a couple of Brits, who were expecting a deluge of sites relating to the sport! Still, having the specific product name will make a localised search much easier.


    I think you've over-estimated the appeal of "oh shinier graphics" and under-estimated the appeal

    Nope. Four years on we're still getting many many games which are super shiny but have lousy game design.

    I believe that it's a consequence of the gaming industry self selecting from graphics programmers. There's literally no way to get into a game company unless you are a graphics wiz or are already employed by a game company. Believe me I've tried (end bitter rant).


    @107 is correct. I misspelled the company name (it is my wifes machine). I was just fascinated to see my non techy wife get so into making home made items on her own personal robotics setup. Its a neat machine to watch. I've always been fascinated by applied robotics, I work as a GC/MS chemists and have lots of little robot servants (I favor Agilents setup)who do sample injection for me all night whilst I am sleeping.


    I fall into the same category, but I don't buy things mainly because the expense and work involved vastly outweighs the joy I get out of it. I spend a lot of my free time making generative art and writing scripts to do things like parse google news and swap all the names of countries and politicians with each other. If I had a mechanism by which I could do such things with atoms rather than bits without having it cost an arm and a leg, I'd probably spend my free time making three dimensional generative art sculptures and little octopods that walk towards light sources, and recycling the plastic from failed experiments.


    The US military, which controls the US GPS satellites, can put them into encrypted mode, whereby they get to read the signals because they have the codes, but nobody else does. As I understand it there's a mode where low-resolution signals are still usable by everyone else (100 meter accuracy IIRC), but the fine detail is encrypted; I'd bet there's also a way to deny any GPS capability to everyone else while still using it themselves.


    Moore's Law Even if it grinds to a halt there will be a big explosion in TFLOPS/$ because fab investment will level out, R&D costs will decline and the price of a CPU will no longer be $100 but head towards $1. We might also (finally) see wafer scale integration. And when parallel processing is finally sorted we might actually get something akin to computronium ie a "block" of computer. You want more power, you just plug more blocks together like Lego.

    However, graphene looks like it will take ICs down to the nanometer level and speeds up into the tens of GHz. Then there's memristor tech and neural co-processors... I think Moore's Law is good for another 30 years in terms of computing power per unit price.


    There are fabbers that take basic foodstuffs and create food from them. For instance, making chocolate and/or cake sculptures. Given how important presentation has become in foodie circles I would be surprised if food fabbing doesn't become a big fad in the next 3 or 4 years.


    Here in the US, the cricket devices are sold in crafts stores (yarn, felt, buttons, feathers, paper, etc.).


    The other useful thing to know about with the Cricut machine is a piece of third-party software called "Sure Cuts A Lot", which allows the Cricut to be controlled by a Windows or Mac computer connected via USB. It allows any TrueType font to be cut out, or any SVG graphics file.

    The company that makes the Cricut cutter also makes the "Cricut Cake", which cuts patterns out of icing sheets. (Unsurprisingly, they also sell the icing sheets.)


    I have to say that I much prefer my 1987 Bianchi Mondiale. :)


    You assume there are functional GPS satellites to receive signals from and this may not be true in a real all-out shooting war. The current constellation is in a high 12-hour orbit but the satellites are not armoured particularly well to protect them from killersat strikes. They are about the most un-stealthy satellites out there, broadcasting their position continuously as they have to to do their job.

    In addition it is remarkably easy to jam GPS reception on the ground. Each satellite transmits only 50W ERP to cover a complete hemisphere which means the signal strength on the ground is very low and receivers depend on a lot of smart processing to dig the data out of the existing noise floor. This is only achievable because the data in the signal being received is very well characterised, a bit like listening to a noisy telephone conversation where the speaker is using a language you are fluent in.

    All in all, militaries train and plan for surprises and accidents disabling the Neet Toys the boffins supply from their white-coat lairs -- see "The Wizards of Pung's Corners" by Fred Pohl for an eerily prescient story on the subject. It was the first thing that popped up into my mind when the initial reports of the US Army's gosh-wow XM-25 superintelligent gun appeared in the press. There's also that Clarke story about the super-aliens who were defeated by the wily Yuumans because the super-weapons they depended on kept on breaking or were never delivered on time or budget.


    It will be interesting to see a shift in the 'law' from simply making smaller transistors to actually having to come up with new technologies and better software. Im looking forward to see how these new ideas (memristors etc) will develop when shrinking silicon becomes unfeasible.


    There is an interesting phenomena that you may not be aware of. If you look at the unit volume of embedded processors versus processors used in computers (PCs, Macs, workstations, servers, etc.) you will find that the computer processor market amounts to about 0.004% of the unit volume but accounts for 15% percent of the gross dollars.

    The Wintel combination has very much been able to extract monopoly profits from the market, Intel being only slightly restrained by AMD. This explains why the cell phone market and the tablet market are based on processors built around ARM cores.

    When we reach the point where there are no more increases in density possible the R&D dollars will go to increasing the efficiency with which the design tools utilize the available transistors.

    This all brings up a point that has been puzzling me about the competitors to the iPad. When I saw the tear down of the original iPad it was clear that Apple has a lot of margin in even the base model and more so in the 32 Gig and 64 Gig models. When the Xoom was introduced at CES I thought that Motorola would price it somewhere between $400 and $500 dollars and steal some of Apple's thunder. After all, the folks basing tablets on Android didn't have to bear the full cost of developing an operating system, that should give them some slack to under price Apple right there. The only answer I can come up with is that they are trying to milk the early adopters.


    Me too, and I was born in 1983. Full disclosure/context however, I was born and raised in Nigeria.


    There's a vicious triangle in portable electronic processing devices consisting of capability, battery life and size/weight constraints. Intel and AMD desktop CPUs and their lower-power cousins the laptop CPU families designed to run OS/X, Windows and Linux typically have a 20-30W minimum power drain at 100% processing load, never mind the rest of the system such as the screen, RAM and HDD or SSD. To get a 3-hour working life for a modern laptop running a full-fledged multitasking OS the battery pack needs to be about 50-60WHrs capacity and such a battery will weigh at least 500 grammes and take up significant space in the chassis. Hammering a laptop with, say, video transcoding or any sort of processing load that approaches 100% will bite hard into its battery life.

    On the other hand portable devices like phones, PDAs and tablets are expected to have long lives between charges and they pay for that by having their processing load seriously constrained so the battery weight and size can be kept in check, so no video transcoding and very limited multitasking are the things that keep a phone or a tablet running for hours playing Angry Birds or browsing the Web. Photoshop is a non-starter although very basic image editing is possible. ARM and some other companies design low-power CPUs that can cope with a limited processing load and don't have the giant L2 caches and the extra execution units that the laptop/desktop CPUs need to keep up with modern processing demands. Intel has the Atom chip which maintains x86 code compatibility to fit into the netbook niche but it still is power-sucking overkill for tablets like the iPad or the Xoom.

    If you want a super-powered tablet that will run a "real" OS, multitask and handle CPU-intensive/RAM-intensive tasks in less than geological time then you're going to have to pay for it with bigger, heavier batteries which will make the tablet less desirable as a hand-held device in, say, book-reader mode.


    I've noticed that game design ideas bankruptcy, translation of new ideas into game concepts difficulties and investor timidity in gaming has typically been the main cause of game development stasis. Consider boardgames: The overall technologies involved haven't made any game-changing advances in the last century aside from incidentally with items involving cheap electrics and electronics perhaps. Somehow all the games really worth playing in this segment seem to be coming from small inventors that have absolutely nothing to do with the larger game companies until long after it is already a marketable product. I point at Die Siedler von Catan and the German boardgaming renaissance to support my point. In the ideal of small-scale, small-startup game design one or two coders can have a brilliant idea that snowballs out but this is not a model that easily pulls together strong development teams. Making something requires finishing tasks and iterations of design and implementation and this requires committed effort at completion from people who have enough of an idea of what they're doing to actually get there. Conversely, the only people who have any freedom to pull large development investments towards unproven concepts don't have lots of such freedom and these are our Warren Spector, Sid Meier and Peter Molyneux type name-brand developers. I think we're running into serious-gaming having hit its wall for the same reason that people are talking about the obsolescence of email in Microsoft land: Terrible implementations of bad ideas dominate and pretty much nobody has a sufficient combination of bravery, knowledge and pull to upset this stupidity yet.

    ...I might draw certain parallels to the stubborn persistence of neoclassical economics but that would be unfair to the videogames industry since they are following proven successes.


    How 3D printing can be made available to the masses, without a large market of people who print things all the time:

    Today, I can bring my PDFs to a local print shop, who will print it using high-end equipment; if my print volume is low, this is more convenient, economical, and high-quality than a home printer. Similarly, there is surely a market for people who want to print a 3D object, say, a few times a year — not enough to justify a home 3D printer for each one, but plenty to support a neighborhood 3D print shop. This can happen today; all we need is an easy-to-use CAD program and a good marketing campaign.

    But, an easy-to-use CAD program is a very hard problem.


    Consider boardgames: The overall technologies involved haven't made any game-changing advances in the last century aside from incidentally with items involving cheap electrics and electronics perhaps.

    I've heard that, in fact, cheap low-volume color printing and piece manufacturing has made a big difference, allowing these Catan games to look nice, thus widening their appeal and making them easier to learn.


    Meet the hackerspace movement, which is how I have (access to) a Cupcake CNC for 100 euro...


    I like this guy! Yes.


    You've never been in the U.S. Army, I take it. A big chunk of Basic and OCS is taken up by land-nav exercises using only equipment commonly available in 1885, albeit in spiffier form.

    These skills proved useful in late 2006 when the GPS system started to insist that a 3-vehicle convoy from the local provincial reconstruction team had somehow wandered into Pakistan.

    I suspect, but do not know, that militaries will still be teaching these skills in 2100. Unless our robot overlords have abolished war by then, of course.


    Just because the military doesn't need GPS doesn't mean they'll let it die. It's very, very handy!


    Happy anniversary!



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    This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on March 9, 2011 3:08 PM.

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