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This essay compares another platform's user and developer experience to GNOME's, in an attempt to understand how to make GNOME accessible to app developers.

I'm watching a presentation about PlayStation Home given at GDC (Game Developers' Conference) 2010, and what amazes me is how easy it seems to be to make stuff for Sony's version of Second Life. It uses industry-standard 3d modeling software (sadly not Blender), and simple Lua scripts to hold everything together. The guy giving the presentation explicitly said he wanted a graphic artist to be able to try out the developer's kit and have a good idea of what they could make from it very quickly, and at every step there are tons of examples and validators which point out potential problems.

The end result is decidedly niche, since it only runs on the PlayStation 3 and takes forever to load (both Home itself and each "scene" in it). I've personally had a lot of fun with it, though, because it's even easier to play than it is to develop for. If Second Life is like a hardcore custom KDE or Windows 7 desktop (running in classic mode!), Home's more like GNOME 3 in that it's extremely simple to play and easy to control and customize your avatar.

SL makes darned near anything possible, but everything's clicky and difficult, and the end result is like a 3d modeling app crossed with a chatroom with bad lag. Home makes a number of trade-offs versus SL that make it more usable:
  • Your avatar can perform fewer actions, but they're all much easier to select.

  • It automatically sorts your inventory into folders, based on how you wear something or what kind of object it is.

  • Instead of rendering scenes or avatars gradually, it takes up to a minute to load each scene fully, and displays a transparent "ghost" person for avatars which haven't loaded completely yet.

  • Scenes themselves are completely self-contained. They can connect with each other through doors or teleporters, but there is no "mainland" area.

  • There's a dedicated game API for developers who want to make games in Home, which is less flexible than SL's open-endedness but makes it a lot easier to write games.

Very few people use Home or SL regularly, and the ones who do tend to be hardcore fans. In SL's case, the interface turns people off, along with how pointless it feels if you don't have friends there or aren't into kink. In Home's case, the long loading times (worse than other PS3 titles) don't help, plus the fact that it's basically a platform for Facebook-style social games where you play as yourself. Plus the fact that it's only on one game console, and isn't that heavily promoted. All of these factors limit Home's audience.

What Home does, though, it does better than Second Life IMO. Even if you toss out Linden Lab's marketing and take SL for the 3d modeling chatroom it is, it's just plain incredibly clunky to use. You have to really be captivated by it to even learn the basic controls. Whereas with Home, you can pick up a controller and play immediately if you can stand the long loading times. I just wish they'd tell people "you can use USB keyboards" when they log in, because one of my friends didn't know that.

Home's biggest limitations are that, from a player's point of view, it's tied to the PlayStation 3; and from a developer's point of view, it's tied to Sony. You need to be a Sony-approved developer, and pay a few thousand dollars for a dev kit. It's not like SL where anyone can jump in and start designing outfits. And while it's also not a griefer's paradise (with a large red light district) like SL is, there's still a lot of harassment in it.

PlayStation Home: Of the devil?

In the Free Software community, we might say that Home is immoral because of how proprietary it is. Tying your stuff to one platform and company is only one way to limit freedom, though, and Home seems to empower both users and developers in ways that (for instance) OpenSim doesn't. Partly because of the network effects and built-in PS3 audience, but also partly because that's what it was made to do, was be simple and widely accessible.

Learning to write GNOME applications, I was struck by how basic it seemed at its core. That a few lines of code, in a simple language, could create an elegant app. I just had to go through a lot of IMO unnecessary work in order to find out how to make that happen to begin with.

I documented what I learned, with the help of my mentor, but it hasn't been nearly enough. I want the best Free Software desktop to also be the most accessible to novice developers, even those who just want to write apps and aren't interested in "contributing to the community." Because requiring someone to be an established C guru, who fits in on GNOME IRC, in order to start writing apps isn't really that different from Sony's gatekeeping. Not from the perspective of someone who wants to create something and hasn't a clue where to start.

Let's make things better

If anyone's interested in contributing, this page explains how to get started hacking the developer docs, while this page outlines where I want to go with JavaScript's. I don't have a lot of free time to work on it in between using my limited spoons to deal with depression and transitioning, but I'm trying to document things that occur to me, and I'm open to hearing suggestions.

Inspirational

Date: 2013-03-08 12:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bennionsthoughts.blogspot.com
I love reading your posts. You remind me of the importance of love towards each other, of promoting well-being, and really make me feel it. Reading your posts makes me feel what I once called "the spirit" at least as much as the scriptures ever did. Because when it comes down to it, recognizing each other's needs as a human and helping to fulfill those needs is what it's all about, and what it always should have been about. Thank you for being you. I think you're one of my role-models as an exmormon, because you care about people and their feelings so much, and remember what's really important. That's very admirable.

Re: Inspirational

Date: 2013-03-08 03:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bennionsthoughts.blogspot.com
Crap, I even scanned that for speciesisms and caught one but missed the other. Anyway, you're awesome.

About us

Furry, fantasy, and fanfiction writer. Miniatures hobbyist, Mi'qote White Mage, 4E DM. Windows gamer, fangirl, and developer. Pronouns she/her, they/their.

Transfemale plurality, otherkin, fictive. Polyamorous pansexual. Proud introvert. Inari worshiper; xenotheist.

We wrote Jewelfox's Otherkin FAQ.

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