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UK freelance journalist and author Sean McManus

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New book and newsletter

01 July 2009

If you've been following me on Twitter, you might have seen that I've just signed a book contract. It's a non-fiction book that will be coming out early next year and I'll have more details to share soon.

In the meantime, I'm starting a free email magazine. Once a month, I'll write a short newsletter about interesting stuff I've found online. I'm looking forward to writing some snippets about online games, music reviews and so on and I'm hoping that the newsletter can work as a publication in its own right.

It will also provide me with an opportunity to tell people about my books when they come out, and hopefully to help start word of mouth around them where appropriate. The email newsletter will also enable me to keep in touch with people who don't visit this website regularly or don't subscribe to the RSS feeds or Twitter feed, but the focus will very much be on adding value. I want this to be a publication that people enjoy receiving and reading.

If you'd like to subscribe (thank you!), there's a form on the right hand side of this page right now. Just enter your name and email address, and (optionally) let me know what content you're most interested in on this site. When you click the button, you'll be sent an email with a link in it. You need to click that link to confirm your subscription, to make sure that people don't sign others up.

If you previously subscribed to one of my mailing lists, I'll drop you a line, but please do sign up using the form if you've got a couple of seconds. It'll save me a lot of time! Thank you!

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UoD in Commodore Free

19 February 2009

If you've read University of Death, you'll know that a Commodore 64 computer plays a starring role in the story. The latest issue of online fanzine Commodore Free has recently been published, and includes an interview with me about how the Commodore came to feature in my plot. You can download the fanzine as a PDF, text file or read it online in HTML here.

This issue also carries news of the thriving C64 music scene, pointers to some C64 demos and short documentary films, news of a new strategy game for the VIC20 and a Dragon emulator for the Amiga, and lots of tips on tape preservation.

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Viral marketing for musicians, and flash games

14 January 2009

I've written a new article about viral marketing for musicians, which reviews some examples of how major acts are igniting word of mouth online. It includes an embedded platform game in which you have to help Lily Allen to escape The Fear.

I'm also hosting a version of Space Invaders and an official clone of Apollo Justice Ace Attorney, the game for the DS.

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Nintendo's new DS

16 October 2008

I have mixed feelings about the new DS, which Nintendo has announced for release next year in Europe. On the one hand, it's great that it includes the Opera Browser and the extra memory that requires as standard. The browser is a great tool, but probably was overpriced at £30 - it's a feature people expect to see included nowadays.

The support for SD cards might make it easier for homebrew to run on the device, which would be nice, particularly because it could help to introduce standards that make it easier to get homebrew running. Before we crack open the champagne, though, we should remember that Nintendo's taken a fairly hard line against homebrew in the past. Increasingly there are warnings on games threatening that running unauthorised devices might damage the games, and the new DS introduces region encoding, which hints that other software access controls might also be on the way.

It's also a shame to see the GBA slot go. I've bought a handful of GBA games to play on the DS, particularly retro game cartridges, and it's a real advantage to have access to a different handheld generation's software. Some of the most interesting DS software has used the GBA slot too, such as Guitar Hero (for the fret peripheral), Arkanoid (for the paddle controller available in the US), and My Weight Loss Coach (which has a pedometer that plugs into the GBA slot). The Opera browser also had a memory expansion pack, and Metroid Prime Hunters had a rumble pack (also compatible with Space Invaders Extreme, so I'm told, although since Amazon is taking about three months to deliver my copy, I might never know). That line of innovation will now slam to a halt.

The downloadable content might be good, if it's priced right. There must be a large market for people prepared to pay about a fiver for a retro game, rather than having to pay £15+ for just about anything, and typically around £25 for something good.

There might be some fun new software to emerge from the inclusion of a camera, but generally speaking the DSi feels like a bit of wasted opportunity. The original DS had an exceptional design. I don't think incorporating a couple of weak cameras and enabling music to be played from an SD card is really going to push things that far forward. In order for any improved processing power to make a difference to the software that's designed for the DS family, the DSi will need to first assume market dominance. There doesn't really seem to be sufficient reason to upgrade for most users.

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Wild Mood Swings updated

22 August 2008

One of my other websites, Wild Mood Swings has just had a major update, incorporating lots of new moods and weeding out some sites that don't offer a great experience any more.

Wild Mood Swings enables 'mood surfing' - you pick a mood and the site whisks you away to a website appropriate for that mood. Sometimes the sites you're shown will reinforce your mood and sometimes they will attempt to change it, but the hope is that each visit provides a fun or satisfying user experience.

The site was originally hosted here at sean.co.uk and will be celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. I'm hoping to raise its profile - it gets lots of positive reviews on social networking sites but that hasn't translated into many organic links or blog posts about it.

Any feedback on the site or how to promote it appreciated.

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Nintendo News: Korg DS-10 and Guitar Hero

05 August 2008

I've read a few reviews online of Guitar Hero on Tour and the new Korg DS-10 synthesizer for the DS, and there have been several uncertainties, which I can clear up.

Guitar Hero on Tour for the DS is great, first of all. The medium difficulty level is perhaps not challenging enough - I've only got through the first 12 or so songs, but I've completed them all on the first attempt. The hard level is a whole league more difficult, so the game levels aren't quite pitched right. But gameplay feels natural and the songs I've played so far are all good fun. I was surprised that I did know some of the songs although I didn't recognise them from the titles in the song list. The fret buttons plug into the GBA socket. One review I read said that it keeps falling out and is too small for adult fans, but when the support strap is properly tightened, I've had no problems at all and the buttons are the right size for my grown-up fingers. Playing with two hands (the other hand strums on the touch screen with the plectrum provided) feels natural and more engaging than simple two-handed button-based gameplay. If you've enjoyed the previous incarnations of the game, this feels like a home from home. If not, it's as good a place as any to start.

Secondly, Korg DS-10 does indeed support English by default. In fact, it doesn't appear to support any other languages. It's only available in Japan at the moment, and reportedly only available through Amazon in Japan, which is making it quite expensive to import. The manual is only in Japanese, but you should be able to muddle through okay - I've had no problems understanding the basics of the interface, although I still need to work out how to use the sequencer. So if you're up for some DS music making, you can import it with confidence. I previously previewed the Korg DS-10 here.

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Playing Amstrad CPC games on the Nintendo DS

15 July 2008

When I got my Amstrad in 1984, it came with one game: Roland on the Ropes. When I finally got an Amstrad emulator running on the Nintendo DS, it was one of the first games I tried. The game seems remarkably easy now, compared to how I struggled with it as a kid. But like many games from the Amstrad era, it plays as well on the handheld as it did on the chunky CPC. There are lots of well-loved games from the 80s that never had an arcade following large enough to justify a commercial remake today, and wrestling with an emulator is probably the only way you'll ever get to play them on the move.

Photo of Nintendo DS running Roland on the Ropes

Nintendo doesn't approve of homebrew, as a rule. One reason is that they want a slice of all the game sales revenue, and want to keep some control over quality. Another reason is that if people learn too much about how to copy files to the DS, they might learn a thing or two about piracy along the way. So getting the emulator running wasn't easy.

The first ingredient was Datel's Games'N'Music. This is an unofficial homebrew cartridge, and probably the easiest to get hold of. You can buy Games'N'Music on Amazon and can probably order it in most game shops. It includes software for converting video and MP3s to the DS, and a small selection of homebrew games. If the words 'Cassette 50' mean anything to you, you'll have a rough idea of the kind of standard of game we're talking about. With no disrespect to the authors, who have climbed technical mountains to create some good-looking titles, the games don't really have the kind of complexity you might expect today.

One reason for that is that until recently, software running on Games'N'Music was unable to use the file system. With all homebrew carts, you need to patch the software in so that it knows how to use the file system on the cartridge you're using. A DLDI driver (as it's known) for Games'N'Music wasn't available for the Nintendo DS until last summer. Now that it is available, much more sophisticated homebrew can be run from the cart. Much of the stuff I've tried still doesn't work, but the good news is that an Amstrad emulator does.

The emulator I've used is called CrocoDS. To get it working, you patch it using the DLDI tool, and then copy the emulator software and Amstrad games to a MicroSD card that comes with the Games'N'Music cartridge. This is a simple drag and drop operation using the USB MicroSD reader that comes with Games'N'Music. The MicroSD card then locks into the main Games'N'Music card, which is like a standard NDS cartridge (although mine broke and I've had to tape it to keep it in). To get it working, I had to copy both the emulator software and the games to the root level of the Games'N'Music cartridge.

Then, you're ready to play. The Games'N'Music interface is extremely unresponsive, but if you keep poking the CrocoDS icon, it'll eventually start. And from then on, everything runs smoothly. You can insert .dsk emulator images or .sna memory grabs.

Because of the size of the screen, mode 0 works best (chunky and colourful, as seen on Chuckie Egg and Get Dexter). Mode 1 (Batman, Knight Lore etc) works well, although you might lose some definition. Mode 2 (mostly used for word processing) is virtually illegible. There is an option to view the CPC screen without scaling, but you can't scroll the area viewed, so you lose the right hand side and bottom of the screen.

The sound is faithfully reproduced, although in some games it runs at half speed for some reason. It seems to be the older games that are affected, so I wonder whether it's the games that were developed for the CPC464 that sound odd since the volume parameters changed for the later machines. The strange sound doesn't affect gameplay, in any case.

The touchscreen has a virtual keyboard, including sticky shift and control keys (so you don't have to hold them down while pressing something else). This works fine, including for adventure games. For action games, the most useful feature is the joystick and cursor key emulation on the direction pad. The A button acts as a fire button when the joystick is being emulated. The D-pad doesn't work quite the same as a joystick - the diagonal controls don't seem as smooth, but in most games that won't matter too much.

Because the D-pad can work like the CPC's cursor keys, you should be able to play pretty much any game with a redefine keys option by redefining the keys to the cursor keys. Sadly, there are some games, including one of my favourites Advanced Pinball Simulator, which aren't playable by joystick and don't have a redefine keys option.

This emulator is a fantastic addition to anyone's library. You can play classics such as Jet Set Willy, Chuckie Egg, Manic Miner, Highway Encounter, Android II, Spindizzy, Dizzy, and many more. If I didn't already have a DS, this emulator would be a good enough reason to buy one. It's a bit fiddly getting it working, but it's well worth the effort.

(Read my book about Amstrad CPC programming, download my games and find out how to run Amstrad games on your PC in my Amstrad CPC pages.)

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Test your vocabulary and feed the world

08 April 2008

This vocabulary quiz will test the most avid readers or writers to their limits. It starts easy, but it soon gets tough.

It looks like you have to answer three vocabulary questions correctly in a row to go up a level, and if you get one wrong, you drop down again. The answers are too short to properly teach you new words, but you can always look up any intriguing words you don't know. An integrated dictionary link would be a nice addition.

The twist with this is that for every round you play, you generate a donation of 20 grains of rice. The site is operated as a non-profit and the money that advertisers pay to show their ads with each quiz round is used to donate free rice to the United Nations World Food Programme.

It's an interesting extension of the Hunger Site's principle, where instead of just clicking each day, you can play a game and spend more time there to increase your donation. And from a business point of view, it's probably more robust because the intelligence required to consistently answer questions should help screen out fraudulent clicks. I wonder whether the adverts are targeted according to how smart you appear to be..?

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Christmas fun and games

09 December 2007

Here are a couple of Christmas-themed Javascript games I wrote. There's a version of Hangman called Snowman with seasonal vocabulary, and a game of pairs using Christmas-themed cards. I didn't make an advent calendar for this site this year, but Brenda Paternoster wrote to tell me that she's implemented my advent calendar script for her site about lace making and genealogy [link no longer available].

Screenshot of Snowman

Screenshot of Xmas Pairs


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Phoenix Wright: game over

09 October 2007

Phoenix Wright: Ace AttorneyPhoenix Wright is the first computer game I've completed in decades. I'm more accustomed to playing retro games which either loop forever or drive you insane before you have to switch off the power, losing all your progress so far. Phoenix Wright on the DS lets you save at any time, which is a good thing.

In Phoenix Wright, you're a rookie lawyer in a fantasy world where the police, prosecutors, witnesses and defence attorneys all team up in a quest for the truth. You explore the crime scene for evidence, chat to the witnesses to elicit clues and then cross-examine them in court.

In the olden days, we might have called a game like Phoenix Wright a graphic adventure, a close relative of the old text adventures where you had to type in directions for your character. Back then, the challenge was to work out how to phrase your commands so they could be understood.

Unfortunately, a fair amount of the challenge in Phoenix Wright is still in the interface. To solve the game, you have to present the right evidence to people at the right time, which is tricky enough given some of the leaps of logic involved. On top of that, there's one bit where you have to rotate an object with near pixel-perfect precision, with little feedback on what you're doing wrong. And another bit where you have to click on the screen and wait for about five seconds without touching anything in order to progress - that's annoying because it's not a game where timing matters anywhere else. I had to resort to the solution to crack that particular bug. (I'm being deliberately vague, so there are no spoilers here). The scene examinations are tricky because you can't tell where one object ends and another begins, and so you often have to page through the same screens of dialogue to make sure you're not missing something.

The lack of artificial intelligence can be annoying. Sometimes you'll present evidence that makes perfect sense to you and seems a lot less contrived than the plot in hand, only to be told something like 'I fail to see how a key can unlock a door?' because they haven't predicted how people will want to interact with the objects at hand. Because it's basically a linear plot grafted onto a game interface with the illusion of free movement, there are some oddities, such as being deprived the ability to examine something you own until it fits the plot; or having to go through characters like game levels, getting all the information you need from one before the next one will appear.

The final case offers a lot more sophistication and introduces fingerprint powder (which you sprinkle with the stylus and then literally blow away) and the ability to zoom and rotate evidence. There are a few simple puzzles too, which makes it feel more like a game. Although it doesn't change the basic gameplay mechanism, it does make the story experience more fun. The fingerprint powder in particular is an inspired use of the Nintendo DS's microphone.

Although Phoenix Wright was sometimes frustrating as a game, as a piece of interactive fiction, it was a great experience. The characters were well written and the plots were twisted and at times moving. The dialogue was well written, although there are a lot of typos in the final case, which jarred somewhat.

It's the warmth of the characters and the quirky storyline that keeps you coming back for more, though. I'm told that the sequel doesn't use the evidence manipulation or fingerprint powder from the final chapter, which is a shame. But after taking a well earned break from crime fighting, I'm sure I'll be ready to take on some new cases, however devious the criminals might turn out to be.

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Nintendo DS: Jam Sessions review

30 September 2007

Cover: Jam Sessions for Nintendo DSA few years back, it seemed computer games were the new 'rock and roll'. Now, it seems rock and roll is the new 'computer games'. With Guitar Hero 3 in development, and axe meister Slash booked to write music for it, it seems everyone wants to play at rock god where once they played at spaceman and soldier.

Jam Sessions for the Nintendo DS is the latest music-led game. 'Sing and Play Guitar' it screams from the cover, with the promise of 35 songs on the back. That turns out to be stretching things a bit, because all that's included from those songs are the lyrics and chords. There's no backing track or melody line, so you're basically strumming by yourself like some lonely indie kid in his bedsit. The song collection seems compiled to hit every demographic once (Eros Ramazotti?), which means you're unlikely to know a lot of these songs unless you have pretty eclectic tastes. And if you don't know the song, it's impossible to guess the timing or melody, so you don't get very much out of their inclusion. It's not like Guitar Hero where you can start off never having heard of some heavy metal number, and finish up loving it.

But if you think of Jam Sessions as an instrument, it's much more promising. The guitar samples sound realistic and there are a number of effects so you can make them sound all spacey or grungey if you don't fancy a clean acoustic strum.

The controls work like this: You hold down a direction button to select a chord from your palette. You then strum the stylus across the virtual string to make it ring. The upstroke and downstroke sound different. With eight chords assigned to the directional pad (diagonals are included), and the left shoulder button used to switch in another palette, you can have up to 16 chords available during one jam session.

Photo of Jam Sessions on Nintendo DS

Photo of Jam Sessions on Nintendo DS

I spent a happy half an hour strumming away and playing with the effects and if you're a bit musical, you'll probably enjoy it too. It certainly makes it easier to play some of the finger-mangling chords in my Prince music books.

You can record your performance, although each recording slot is fairly small. It's counted in strokes, but unless you're playing a real dirge, you're only going to get about 30 seconds out of each slot. You'll do better using a line out and recording it on your PC.

The controls can be fiddly. I found the diagonals difficult, because if you slip there's a good chance you'll trigger a wrong chord. For most songs, you'll be able to assign the chords you need to the up/down/left/right buttons (plus the same buttons in the additional palette). You can save your palette combinations.

There are over 100 chords available, which is plenty for most people. The variations appear to be major, minor, major 7, sus4, add9, minor 7, minor7 flat 5 and diminished. Jam Sessions really missed an opportunity here: if it were possible to configure your own chords (even just a handful of them), it would make it possible to play just about anything. As it is, it can be irritating to find that you can't play a particular song because one tricky chord's missing, or because you can't do any inversions or chords with bass notes, and it's a song where you really notice the difference.

There are a few other missed opportunities: the most obvious is the lack of support for looping and layered playback. There are plenty of themes included, although it might have been nice to be able to doodle your own customisations. It would have been interesting to have a wider range of samples too, rather than sticking with the guitar. A simple drum machine would have added quite a bit too, as would the ability to play pure notes rather than just chords. But perhaps the interface is fairly basic because the cartridge is already taken up by the existing samples, which do sound great.

Jam Sessions is a fun piece of software, and as long as you're happy to consider it an instrument rather than a game, you'll enjoy it. There's an amplifier available separately, if you really want to crank it up. I'm not convinced Jam Sessions is what non-musicians need for their first introduction to performance, but I do think it's a handy tool/toy for people who already know a bit about chords. Of course, you can't beat thrashing away on a real guitar (the DS isn't as responsive if you're really hammering it quickly, for a start), but this is a good and cheap way to experiment with guitar sounds and effects. Perhaps I'll use it on my first album, one day...

Jam Sessions is available now

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Nintendo Browser to support Flash?

22 May 2007

Nintendo browser boxSpeculation has been mounting for some time that the US release of the Nintendo DS Opera Browser will support Flash. Now the promo guff on the Nintendo website [link no longer available] advertises Flash support, which has been taken by many as official confirmation.

Those who have tried the European or Japanese releases of the browser find it hard to believe. The frame rate grinds to a crawl if you have a couple of animated GIFs on the page. It's certainly a far cry from the 'lightning fast' performance the Nintendo site claims Opera delivers. Perhaps the US release comes with an enhanced memory pack to help the browser render more quickly. Even so, that would be unlikely to have an impact on download times, which would be limited by the hardware's bandwidth. Pages that feature Flash tend to have a large total file size.

How much use would Flash be in the Nintendo DS browser? Not much, I suspect. The small screen rendering mode (which is the easier of the two modes to use) will not be able to strip anything meaningful from most Flash files. The overview mode involves a lot of scrolling around, which is likely to make it impossible to play most existing Flash games. I can live without all the Flash adverts and splash pages. And Youtube wouldn't be much fun without the sound.

Opera did a smart job of designing the original browser, though, so it might have some new tricks to solve these problems. Being able to magnify/shrink and centre Flash movies might be all it takes to make them usable, although obviously detail would be lost on the small screen. Sound would be a welcome addition, and would seem to be a prerequisite for meaningful Flash interaction.

I don't miss Flash on the current browser, but there is reason to be excited. If the US browser does support Flash, it will for the first time make it easy for people to develop games for the Nintendo DS. There is a thriving homebrew community, but getting unofficial software working involves quite a bit of hacking and some extra hardware. If people can just visit a website to play, that will make it much easier. Flash is a well understood development tool, with many game-writing tutorials available. The incorporation of Flash into a DS browser could be the catalyst the platform needs for homebrew to go mainstream.

Related links:

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Nintendo DS mini-site launched

04 March 2007

Nintendo browser boxYesterday I got the Nintendo Browser by Opera for my DS Lite (you need a different version if you've got non-lite DS). Using it, you can browse the web over a wi-fi connection.

It's not without its limitations - there's only so much you can do with a maximum screen width of about 230 pixels. But Opera provides a couple of different browsing modes to get around the limitations. One enables you to move a magnifier around the screen to view zoomed-in content on the top screen. The other linearises tables and other content for small screen rendering. You soon become adept at switching between the small screen rendering and overview modes, and at swapping the top and bottom screens over so you can use the touchscreen for zooming or clicking on links.

It's painfully slow to begin with - slower even than dial-up. But once you've adjusted your expectations and stop trying to go through gee-whizz graphics heavy sites, it's a great experience. The BBC News light site is particularly strong, and the accessible rail timetable works well too. Blogs are easy enough to surf, being mostly based on simple templates. Amazon.co.uk is a bit cluttered in SSR mode, but appears fully functional. You learn to filter out the navigation detritus and see through to the content.

Many sites fail, mostly sites using clever web 2.0 techniques to refresh within the page. You can't even log in at Blogger, and I was disappointed that tadalist and twitter didn't work. Those three would have been ideal mini-applications for a handheld.

That said, most straight Javascript does work. My simpler Javascript games worked just fine. Where sites have been designed to be accessible (which is, in any case, best practice and a legal requirement), they should work okay on the DS.

The Opera browser is an essential addition for anyone with a DS. It's worth sorting out a wi-fi connection for.

To learn more about designing for the platform, I've built a Nintendo DS microsite. You can access it at www.sean.co.uk/nds. It includes my top 10 games for the platform, and customised versions of my Hangman and Misfit games which I'm quite proud of getting working so smoothly. There's also a portal I've made providing quick access to Google, a dictionary, a cartoon and a handful of other sites. Let me know (in the comments) if there are any other sites that you'd like to see added to the portal, and that work well on the DS. And if you've got a DS and Opera, let me know your thoughts on the mini-site. When I get time, I'll write about what I've learned about designing for the platform.

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Electroplankton: singing with the fishes

01 June 2006

Electroplankton (and at Amazon.co.uk) is the first software I've seen on the Nintendo DS that has impressed me. It's basically a pocket toolkit for creating generative music, divided into ten sections. There's one where you draw lines across the screen and fishes swim along them. As they do, they make a sound which changes in pitch according to how the line is drawn across the screen. There's another section where four fishes swim across the screen and you can record a different sample for each and they're all looped together. The most engrossing module is one where you have fishes bouncing between nodes on a grid. Each node represents a different note and has a pointer to another node, which you can turn to make the fishes go to a different node next. As the fishes bounce around the nodes at different speeds, they make layered music that reminds me of some of Brian Eno's work. In another module, you press different boxes on the screen to play notes. Each melody is looped four times, so you can build up layered pieces that change over time. It's all good fun, and the most accessible way to dabble with generative music.

Some of the levels are little more than toys, but others are sophisticated enough that you could consider them to be instruments. This poses some interesting questions: if I write music using Electroplankton, who owns the rights? The manual (PDF, 6MB) doesn't say, but does invite you to perform using Electroplankton without asking for any money for the privilege. Clearly the designer Toshio Iwai has invested time and creativity in making the level designs, algorithms and sounds that make my music possible. But without my creative input, the music would be random. Electroplankton does feature a computer-plays mode, so perhaps Nintendo would argue that my creative input is unnecessary? In which case, are we all just wasting our time?

We could go around the houses on this for ages, but it does seem amiss of Nintendo not to clarify the issue up-front. Still, if we are all wasting our time, there are worse ways to do that than listening to ambient music while watching cartoon fishes with big grins dancing.

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Copyright matters

25 March 2006

I'm going to stick my head over the parapet now and write something unpopular: Copyright matters.

I know it's trendy nowadays to be all loved-up and say 'hey, man, let the data flow free like a river'. I have great respect for the work of the open source movement, and for the work of the Creative Commons. But just because some people choose to relinquish some of their legal rights, it doesn't mean everybody else should be forced to.

As you might know, I'm pretty defensive of my copyrights. In this post I'll explain some of the reasons why.

Creators should choose how stuff is used

One of the issues that is often overlooked is one of choice. Even a Creative Commons licence gives you a choice over which rights you give away. You can, for example, say content is free to use provided it's not modified or that it can be used only in non-commercial projects.

But a problem with the Creative Commons model is that it assumes you want to assign permission based on usage, and not on who is making that use. I'm pretty politically aware, and there are some organisations that I would never grant permission to use my creative work. I would never want my work to be used against the causes I believe in. There are even individuals with whose views I disagree to the extent that I wouldn't want to actively help them. The law gives me the right to choose on a case-by-case basis who can and can't use my work.

This has nothing to do with free speech, by the way: Just because I respect and defend your right to express your views, it doesn't mean I should help you express them.

Time matters

Anyone want to mow my lawn for free? Go on. I'll tell everyone you did a great job. I thought not.

Time is the scarcest resource we have. Some of us will have more than others (we won't know how much until the end), but we've all got the same number of hours in the day, and days in the week. Working out how to spend it is what life's all about. Respecting how people spend their time is respecting their lives.

Over the last (nearly) ten years, I have spent a lot of time making content and building this website. Content is quick to consume, but slow to create. Writing games takes days. Writing an article can take half a day, once research is factored in. Even taking and scanning photographs is a fairly big job, even before we've factored in the time taken travelling to places to photograph. And let's not even start talking about how long it takes to write a book.

Don't get me wrong - I love it. That's why I do it. But if I've spent my limited life force making things instead of watching TV, it seems only fair that I choose who benefits from that. The law gives me the right to exercise control over how my work is used.

Derivative works are just that

A derivative work is when you take one thing, and then build upon it to make another thing. It's a more creative endeavour than just copying something, and the people who create the derivative work often add value. But they often cause problems too, and I have a right in law to decide who can and can't make derivative works from my material.

There are corners of the internet where people are still cursing me in a foreign language following a dispute over an unauthorised translation of one of my articles. I know that the translator who broke copyright law was only trying to make some ideas more widely available, but the end result could be the exact opposite. Now that I've had the exclusive translation rights stolen from me for that language, I can't license a major publisher to use it (which would have potentially communicated the ideas much more widely). For the record, I tried to reach a compromise where I published the translated version on this website but the translator was unresponsive. The article has been pulled from circulation.

Derivative works also restrict my creative freedom. If I make something, I'm free to adapt and modify it how I like. If somebody else independently alters it and makes new works, I'm having some of my creative options taken from me. Either I can't then do what they've done, or there is another work out there with which I must compete despite creating the original source material.

I do respect the time that people spend in creating derivative works, but request that they also respect the time that I spend in creating source material. If you're interested in translating content or creating derivative works, please contact me. I'll work with you if I can, but reserve my legal right to say 'no'.

Let's talk business

Just because you're not prepared to pay for something, it doesn't mean it doesn't have a value. While many people can and do set up websites for free, I actually write cheques to keep this website online. I also incur real money costs creating content (software, hardware, training). I've put over 300 pages of original content online and nearly all of it is free for you to read.

This is made possible by advertising, and the products I sell, including licences to use my copyright material. By charging people who want to make certain uses of my content, I'm able to publish lots more content for free. If I let people put my work on other websites for free, I end up competing with my own work for the traffic that helps pay the bills. That's the economics of it.

You might think I could avoid all that by just giving the content away, so that other people pay to host it. I can see how this might work for certain types of content. I've allowed unmodified copies of my websafe colour palette program to be circulated freely. But we come back to the control issue again (see above), so I don't allow my other work to be copied in this way.

In certain cases, I will grant a free licence to use my work. In other cases, I will make a charge. You might be surprised at how friendly I am, if you drop me a line.

Copyrights do have a commercial value and they are a part of my wealth. Anyone taking my copyright material is stealing some of my livelihood.

Credit where it's due

It's a buzz when someone says they like what you've made, or that they found it useful in accomplishing their own goals. Knowing the identity of the creator of a work also changes your perception of it. The law gives me a right to be identified as the creator of my creative works.

There are a couple of common web practices which interfere with this right:

I really appreciate people linking to this website to help spread the word, but please link to a HTML page and don't use frames. Don't make it look like you own my content. Ask if you don't understand or you're not sure.

Fair use

I'm not trying to restrict your rights here - just assert my own. So I don't have a problem with people reproducing short excerpts for the purpose of comment provided they're accompanied by a link to the original source. I don't have a problem with people using images from this site as their windows wallpaper on their own computer, although I do have a problem with them passing those images on to others. You're welcome to print out any material here for your own use, but not to circulate it without permission. If you're not sure what's allowed, please drop me a line.


If you've got any comments, please email me. I'll update this article with them later.

For the avoidance of any doubt, none of the above and nothing in the comments grants you any rights in relation to my content. If you want to make use of my copyright material, you are required to contact me first.

There are lots of 'contact me' links in the above, because I get particularly annoyed when people don't ask. I'll negotiate if you ask. I won't, if you don't.

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Amstrad CPC games updated

01 September 2005

In the 90s I wrote type-in games and programs for the Amstrad CPC computers which were published in Amstrad Action and Amstrad Computer User magazine. The format of type-ins imposed some limitations on the software - brevity was important, so you often couldn't do everything you wanted to. It was bad form to lock people out of a program which might have (their) errors in it by the time they came to run it, so you couldn't do anything too tricky with hiding the screen.

Last year I revisited my programs, which had already been on this site for a few years by then, and took the opportunity to improve them. It was mainly the presentation and music, although I also enhanced some elements of gameplay and the user interface.

I was surprised that after ten years I could still program the machine - not just by remembering what I'd done before, but by creatively solving new problems I hadn't come up against before. I hope to become as fluent in some of the new technologies I'm looking at, as I am in this obsolete platform.

Today I've replaced the two discs of Amstrad software that used to be here with one disc. I've removed programs that haven't aged as well or that don't make sense in an emulator (eg tape header reader) to make room for the improved type-ins. The disc still includes all the files referenced and tools used in my programming tutorial and still includes my machine code game 'The Further Adventures of Fred'. The disc also includes a puzzle called PixelMaze, which only had an obscure release before and so which can be considered new.

It's useful to know I can use the Amstrad as a prototyping platform on challenging projects before I get knee-deep in other programming languages I understand less instinctively. But I don't plan to begin any further Amstrad programming work. This was just a project I wanted to finish off properly, and now the updated disc has been uploaded, I have.

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Virtual Sean updated

17 July 2005

In December 2000, I wrote an article for Internet Magazine about creating virtual helpers and avatars for your website. Since then, Virtual Sean has been chatting with visitors on this site, using both on-screen text and a free speech plug-in.

Cartoon of SeanThe cartoon I drew of myself five years ago doesn't look very much like me any more, and I've always wanted to return and improve the interactivity. Now I've given Virtual Sean a makeover using graphics from Janina Norn's South Park Studio. I've also added in animation and given his language skills a boost.

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