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Jan 13, 2011



Interesting thoughts, Tim.

I'm with you about the desirability of more open worlds, and I see how it ties into the Flynn/CLU schism in the T:L plot.

All the same, and at the risk of straying from the topic you've framed out, I just want to say I was sort of underwhelmed by the movie -- the visuals were very nice (esp. in 3D) and I liked the soundtrack. I even liked Jeff Bridges doing what, from time to time, seemed to me like a cartoon of John Perry Barlow or Howard Rheingold -- or maybe even Bruce looking back on the early days of avatars! :-)

But the whole Castor plot twist just convinced me that they didn't know what they were working with -- and that brief Rinzler/Tron redemption thing... sigh.

This is undoubtedly influenced by the fact that I saw T:L right after seeing Harry Potter 7.1, which won hands down. The key difference being that Yates brought cinéma vérité to fantasy. Like Peter Jackson's LOTR (actually, even more so), he cared about the world enough to get it right and then move beyond it. The film takes Harry Potter's fantasy world so seriously that it basically ignores it.

Kosinski doesn't bring anything like that to T:L. He's stuck on the pretty wrappers surrounding standard Disney fare with a dash of the Big Tronbowski thrown in. After seeing T:L, I felt sort of like I did with SW Episode One: Is that all there is? I wish they had hired some writers who actually cared about the story and the characters, or at least had something more to make out of the material.

The soundtrack was awesome though. I even had Journey's Separate Ways going through my head for a couple of days!


I don't think you fully understand what failchan is.


A virtual world full of human imperfections, markets, experiments, and emergent phenomena does exist, but of course it will never work. Everyone knows that a consistent, centrally-managed system is best. WoW is just the latest "proof."


As was mentioned,I felt T.L. was visually stunning and great on the ear. However I felt that it followed the standard anti-climatic plot that must action films do now, and being a big Babylon 5 fan I really wanted to see more of Bruce Boxleitner. The fact that we didn't see more of him suggests that they didn't have the budget to animate his face like Jeff Bridges, which was a real shame. That aside, I like you take on T.L. and how it relates to current virtual worlds




the new TRON was pretty good I had watched the old one a week b4 hand for a fair comparison.


>whether there’s some slender remnant possibility that is neither of these.

There is. It's emergent community, spontaneous order. A MMOG with user governance institutions. Something thicker than EVE's mafia regimes, but not as thick as Blizzard's World of Statecraft. Something between Chieftain and Central Committee.

They say democracy is messy. Yes - messier that rule by Politburo. But not as messy as mob rule.

Imagine worlds with constitutions. Due process, delimited authorities, oversight, reporting. Elections. Yes, Richard, I know it's been done. Maybe that branch needs to be restored.


Here's an interesting Kotaku article about players policing players in League of Legends. I think as designers we can make this problem a fun and interesting one to solve. Keep the worlds open, hold people accountable for their actions and involve your peers.



I thoroughly enjoyed Tron Legacy as well, and thought there were several clever plays between the original and the new. Just for the record, the sidekick character in the original was "BIT", not "BYTE", which was what made the "Yes" or "No" dialog very clever for the time. I also find myself now having a boyish crush on Olivia Wilde as well!


Assuming you were making a reference to Thomas Hobbes I believe you intended to use the word "Hobbesian", rather than "Hobbsean". However, in the case that I am wrong and you were referring to someone with the last name of Hobbs, I ask you to please accept my humblest of apologies as I withdraw my comment.


Thanks. Both fixed.


Tim, you've brought up two topics here that I'm having trouble bringing together.

First, on open/imperfect vs. closed/static worlds. Many of us agree that there is a great deal of exploration of open, imperfect worlds where actions have consequences and meaning. The problem being most people don't want this. As Raph quoted (someone) recently, from the POV of many players, "games are easy, worlds are hard." For the most part, people who view virtual worlds as places to play aren't interested in the "hard work" presented by an open world.

And more to the point, these will never happen unless and until someone can get one funded that is successful. The probabilities for that are not good, to put it mildly.


Now, as to the movie, I get the analogy you're making, but it's difficult for me to dig past all the things wrong with Tron:Legacy to get to it.

This movie could have been so much more in virtually every department except possibly CGI -- but then, CGI is like breathing these days (LOTR, Harry Potter, Avatar, Inception, 2012... good movies and bad, but stunning and seamless CGI). And even there, the movie slips over the edge of the Uncanny Valley with the creepily done "young Flynn" doppleganger.

So sure it was an action movie, but still it was clunky: poorly paced, large plot holes and production gaffes (for a lot of the time they're trying to get Flynn's disc, he parades around with it clearly on his back). And worse, seemingly significant plots and characters are left hanging -- for example, what happened to Dillinger's son, played by an uncredited Cillian Murphy, who was forgotten after being introduced so pointedtly?

As narrative it's loopy (and not in a good Inception-like way), with setups for characters and confrontations that don't happen, or happen hapazardly. Flynn apparently has great power in the virtual world, but uses it only twice, and then almost as a "oh hey, right, I have this thing I can do." There are add-on characters and lines the camera and soundtrack dote on, like Michael Sheen's Zuse or Bridge's unintentionally odd Lebowski-like "You're messing with my Zen thing, man" or "I'm gonna knock on the sky"... after which nothing much really happens.

But really, that's just the surface level.

At a deeper level, the movie continues not to work. :)

They were so close to doing a virtual world twist on The Tempest, with a bit of Frankenstein thrown in: Flynn is already Prospero/Frankenstein, and Quorra is very much Ariel/Miranda. Sam is Ferdinand (or if you like, Leslie Nielsen's Commander Adams from "Forbidden Planet"). Clu is Caliban/the Monster, with a nice intertwining with Flynn there too.

In such a story Flynn would remain as the flawed world-creator, but with a much more interesting and comprehensible story to tell.

For me, both as a movie and as commentary on virtual worlds, T:L fails as soon as they make Flynn more Lebowski and less Prospero. Maybe someday we'll see that story told too.


Games are easy, worlds are hard. Agreed.

Most people don't want it? I couldn't disagree more. I may pull this up for a main post in a few days, but:

I think this is one of the things that one million copies of Minecraft is trying to tell us. I'm dismayed that so many early designers of virtual worlds are hiding behind a flawed reading of the market (or assume that Blizzard's successes as a game designer boil down entirely to having the biggest money hats). Or, to repeat a criticism I've lobbed at Raph now and again, a tendency towards misattributing problems that stem from particular, specific cultural habitus and misfires of technological design to deep, intrinsic psychological structures of play and sociality.

Some simple propositions about worlds, on some of which I think Minecraft is "good to think":

1) Maybe the problem with worlds was not multiplayer, but massively. Maybe people don't want to be in a world with an indiscriminate mashup of everyone who wants to be in a world. Maybe "SMO" (small multiplayer online worlds) would work where massive ones didn't. Especially if the worlds themselves were large. Most of my other social experiences online let me build from the bottom up the size, scale and character of my trusted network with whom I share content or connections. If I'm playing or interacting with the largest possible set of partners, maybe they need to be reduced to the most anonymous, minimalist, almost non-human form, the same way that markets aggregate our individual actions to produce collective and structural results. Maybe when we want worlds, we want the opposite. Other social media succeed at giving us something closer to that desire. MMO designers, on the other hand, have stubbornly continued to insist that Barrens chat is the price we all have to pay, or that it's a good experience to have to dance in cantinas for misogynst teenaged bullies.

2) Maybe the problem with player content-creation has always been the tools, not the intrinsic act of creation. Building content in NWN2, Second Life or Metaplace was hard compared to building text-heavy content in many social media platforms or publication forms, or building digital video for distribution through YouTube, or building animation using XtraNormal, and so on. Minecraft content is by comparison easy: it matches tools with 'worldliness'. Maybe the problem is that worlds where content creation has been a part of the mix have always wanted to start at too intermediate a level of meaning and expression: not at basic tools that scale up to emergent complexities as a result of what human beings do with them, but tools already restricted to building "faux-medieval towns compatible with the D&D ruleset in which NPCs can be placed".

3) Maybe the problem is the narrowness of the imaginative subculture involved in game design. If the Sims had never existed, I'd wager I'd have a hard time getting funding for it now. Maybe the loop of people with money and people who make games is far too tightly closed, and unsurprisingly, people in that loop tend too have way too pessimistic an understanding of what could happen.

4) Maybe the problem is with the players after all, but it's not a problem of not wanting a world-like platform: it's a problem with wanting too much of it.


Timothy Burke, thanks for your thoughts. Agree with you in most of moments


T:L bothered me on two fronts. Why was their blood while they were on the grid and why were they eating roasted pig? I mean if you're digitized then you're digitized. Also, the CGI Clu was real enough for me. See: Uncanny Valley.

I wonder if the Grid would have been more successful if instead of giving Clu all the design power Flynn implemented a meritocracy. See:Ubuntu.


Typing too fast.

*Why was there blood....

*the CGI CLu was not real enough....


(Posted without "Preview" because I every time I try that, TypePad decides to reload the page and throw away what I've typed.)

Tim, personally I agree with many of the points you're making about open/undirected worlds (and I typed too fast above too, or edited oddly, as a couple of key phrases seem to have been left out).

But I think we too quickly dismiss the inescapable fact that the large majority of people playing games (from FB games to WoW -- and we're now talking about hundreds of millions of people) clearly want clear paths of progression rather than a field to explore. They want to know how to "win," where to go next, what's the best path. They want meaningful choices too, but only once they've been carefully crafted to be meaningful in a meta-sense, as in "I know that if I choose A, I'll be the hero and that's meaningful; if I choose B I'll be a loser and that's also meaningful but in a bad way." So the choice itself is virtually on rails, but the meta-level meaning is still there.

Now, all that said, I still deeply believe in the potential -- both commercial and "artistic" for lack of a better word -- of open worlds. I'll even throw in "massively," provided that the players have the tools to create their own public/private spaces (as you say: "build from the bottom up the size, scale and character of my trusted network with whom I share content or connections"), just as we do in the real world.

But I have little hope of this happening any time soon. Or if it does, it will be another in the SL vein, like the recently pulled-back Blue Mars. There's a whole lot of game/world space between Second Life and WoW, and we've explored almost none of it. The reason is twofold: it's difficult creatively, and it's highly risky financially. So don't get your hopes up (yes, this is 15+ years of actively trying to push that rock uphill speaking).

To that point, you said, "If the Sims had never existed, I'd wager I'd have a hard time getting funding for it now."

I have news for you: EA tried to kill The Sims multiple times. If it hadn't been backed by Will Wright (whom they needed as brand in addition to his design chops), it would have been killed years before anyone heard of it. If it had never existed you wouldn't have a prayer of getting it made today.

So, the best bet for open world games is that someone magically brings together the design, technical, and funding abilities needed to make it happen without succumbing to the many ways to crash along the way. I still hope for that -- I hope to be in on it -- but I'm not holding my breath.

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