Monday, November 21, 2005


Primmies, winner of the 2005 Second Life Game Developer Contest, is the delightful strategy/puzzle/action game that resembles a multiplayer, three-dimensional Lemmings, challenging you to navigate your adorable tribes of Primmies across treacherous terrain, while preventing them from marching suicidally off the edge of the randomly generated maps which appear from a whirling vortex. In naming it the overall winner, veteran game developer and contest judge Doug Church praised it as "a focused and self-contained game... a game sandbox to play in," full of nice details that provide "a fun closure to it."

There's really just one problem with Primmies. Primmies is dead.

Co-creator Jeffrey Gomez discovered this shortly after the recent release of SL version 1.7, when he returned to the land he'd won from the contest, and fired his game up. The thing of it was (without overgeeking on the particulars) Linden Lab had just changed with 1.7 the way objects in the world handled collision detection. "Everything works but the Primmies themselves now," Gomez told me. "Who either collide with one another now (bad) or don't collide at all (worse)."

Or as Gomez surmises it, "Let's just say the cows have come home to roost."

For in his eyes, this was a sign of larger issues for scripters like him, as they attempt ever more ambitious projects that require months of development, through several updates. "[Y]ou had asked why big production games don't work in Second Life," he tells be. "That's why. The commands are just too subject to change at the higher levels... The higher-function stuffs, collisions especially, are changed pretty often." (In this particular case, an element in the collision system that would somtimes cause regions to crash was fixed, and in the fixing, Primmies was broken.) "It's tough working with code no one really understands enough to follow out to every logical conclusion," Gomez reasons. "Makes stuff impossible to predict."

Unsurprisingly, LL development coordinator Chris Linden sees it differently, pointing to Preview, which as the name suggests, is a pre-release version of Second Life where Resident developers and builders can test how the upcoming upgrade might impact projects they have in the works. "What is frustrating from our perspective," he e-mails me, "is that we advertise the Preview grid months before we launched 1.7. Jeffrey could easily have come to Preview and tested Primmies and discovered the problem and contacted us. If done early enough, there is a good chance we could have done something."

"The devs have been very supportive of fixing it..." Jeffrey acknowledges. "It's really not the fault of the coders. Or Preview grid. Or anything. It's a logical fallacy at the systems level. That being, when a new update goes live, it goes live everywhere. Contrast this with most systems builders and designers, who know it might break stuff, and basically give people the option to upgrade."

He explains his perspective in systemic terms, in comparison to the Internet itself.

"Current assumptions by the [Second Life] system:

1) Linden Lab controls all data.
2) LL employees are human beings, hence, they make mistakes.
3) All patches are final and happen everywhere at once, due to point 1.

Compare this with the way the Internet works:

1) No one controls all data.
2) People screw up.
3) Any changes to the system happen ONLY WHEN ADOPTED."

If there's anything to be gained from the inadvertant death of Primmies, perhaps it's Jeffrey Gomez's exhaustive white paper on where he believes the future of metaverse development should go. Read it all here.

Posted at 06:47 PM | Permalink


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Yeek! Page isn't finished yet, so I've left a note to that effect. Given it was 70% done or so, I guess it's fair to open the floodgates.

Also, the person in many of the screenshots is my partner in crime, Alan Beckett. The man who made the original Primmies design in the first place. About time he got some press. :)

Posted by: Jeffrey Gomez at Nov 22, 2005 6:58:27 AM

Also, a slight correction based on new information. I had talked with Andrew Linden on the change to the collision problem and was essentially told it had been broken prematurely due to a change that wasn't realized on the main development "trunk."

In the fallout since 1.7, there've been about three changes that have made the process extremely difficult:

1) Collision Changes (see above)
2) Object-to-Object Inventory (fixed; see article here on the subject)
3) Script Scheduling Problems (currently my bane)

Now, as pointed out, the problem isn't that these changes went into the new version. I consider a few of them to have been good at face value.

Rather, it's that they were imposed on everyone at once. To quote Mark Wallace from the linked article, "the gods had spoken, the new laws had been passed down."

Posted by: Jeffrey Gomez at Nov 22, 2005 7:14:41 AM

Thanks for the article Jeffrey. Even if it's mostly done, I've found it to be quite interesting; Reminds me of the Latus project (aka Something Else) that Cyan was last working on.

Much more to comment, but I'll backtrack it to here once I've got it more organized...


Posted by: Alan_Kiesler at Nov 22, 2005 7:04:12 PM

Jeffrey, this is awful. And you're taking it like a man. But you should squawk more, because it's indicative. First, can you tell us - yes or no -- did you go in the Preview -- yes or no? Just to strip away that rationalization the Lindens are putting forth.

Next, how could you have patches that anyone could opt into or not? On this or that sim? Then you wouldn't be able to fly around the world. I don't see how you could have an interconnected world that way.

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