Legend of the Greasepole gets the Silverlight 4 + Analytics treatment

Legend of the Greasepole Title Screen

Legend of the Greasepole has been ported to Silverlight 4 and reincarnated on http://greasepole.net.

Greasepole is the long-suffering game about multimedia tribute to the inexplicable Engineering traditions at Queen’s University in Canada. Over 50 students contributed to the project back in the day.

There’s a significant AI component to Greasepole – the autonomous “frosh” characters have models for learning and communicating with one another.

A couple of years ago I ported it from C++ to C# and XNA. I abstracted out a series of services (graphics, sound, input, timer, persistence) so that it might ultimately be ported again to a platform like, say, Silverlight or something. Why? I don’t know, maybe I’m a little obsessed with the illusion of preservation.

The Silverlight 2 version was a bit shaky. Silverlight 4’s hardware acceleration and bitmap caching make it pretty solid. It is also awesome to hear from friends that it apparently works on the Mac.

Analyze These… Shenanigans

I also added a little analytics. Although it should probably be said that the Greasepole event largely defies analysis, the game itself does not, and so this is the first time I can let someone poke their head in and see how the froshies are doing all around the world.

Back in the day, the worldwide best time was in excess of a mere 53 minutes. But I had to learn that by way of Sean Murray (class of ’05; wonder where he is now) sending me a screenshot. Now the interwebs will tell us immediately. (Admittedly, it’s not a fair fight against Sean, because the frosh are now permanently in “keener” mode, and the Options screen has been replaced by a dozen trendy Achievements for you to “unlock”).

So get going stalling those frosh, and my question for you is – what statistics would you like to see?

“Number of pints Al ‘Pop Boy’ Burchell has quaffed?”

“Number of hippos fed”?

“Height of human pyramid vs time”?

I am going to enjoy cooking up visualizations for some of those.

(Coding notes: A few new VS2010 things helped with this update: Web.config transformation (rocks), improvements to Web Publish functionality, XAML designer, Entity Framework experience… and more.)

Play Legend of the Greasepole Online Edition.

The Unfolding of Language

Deutscher's The Unfolding of Language

When Stephen Fry laments “it is a cause of some upset that more Anglophiles don’t enjoy language,” it’s as if Michael Phelps were to lament that not enough people enjoy water. So when Stephen wholeheartedly recommended Guy Deutscher’s The Unfolding of Language, which he characterized as more playful and engaging than books on similar subject matter, I was hard pressed to say no. It’s taken me ages to find time to get into the meat of this book (strictly my own fault), but now, about two-thirds of the way through, I wanted to offer it my wholehearted recommendation for anyone who is even remotely interested in language and its origins and evolution.

Deutscher’s prose is indeed playful and accessible, his examples thought-provoking, and his subject matter fascinating: what are the forces that shape and transform language?

Deutscher mentions more than once that “These days, there are no systems of communication which are in the process of evolving their first words.”  He’s right, I suppose, but only on a technicality.  Last week I was taught the basics of a computer scripting language I’d never worked with before. Surely the constructs of some arbitrary scripting language represent one of many “artificial” systems of communication which are in the process of evolving their first “words” (and tokens).

I am writing this now as Deutscher transitions in the book from talking about the destructive forces which are applied to language (which favor economy, expressiveness, and analogy), into the constructive ones which enable new linguistic richness to blossom. Metaphor, apparently, provides many of the raw materials for new grammatical elements.

With that observation under my belt, and aspiring to be a creative force in the universe, I suddenly feel a bit better about my obsession with admiration of Roger’s Profanisaurus (a dictionary of profanity that originates in the pages of the UK’s Viz magazine, which derives cleverness and vulgarity in equal measure from a playful, multi-layered cocktail of metaphor, rhyming slang and other wordplay).

And of course there are my dear LOLcats, who reflect (again in equal parts) the absurd and absurdly rapid evolution of linguistic memes as they’re propelled at the speed of the internets. Since I’m in Ireland, and Deutscher recently reflected on the necessity of the word possessing-implying “have”, here’s a somewhat appropriate LOLCat I just cooked up  – with my cap off to Jim Condron for his help with the Irish word for “flavr.” (context here for the uninitiated)

Orish Kitteh Ubserves: Deres a flavor on meh
oirish kitteh tinks: deres a flavr on meh, so dere iz.

Back to Deutscher’s book.  He spends the fifth chapter illustrating a point by employing a fictional dialogue between a cast of characters at a ‘George Orwell Centennary Conference’.  it’s a technique akin to the one I admired in Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher, Bach. Actually, that’s all I have to say.  Check it out.  Go for a swim.  And apologies to Deutscher, Mellie, Fry for this rambling but heartfelt review.

Greasepole Achievement List

Congratulations to Sci ’11 for their one-hour, 47-minute conquering of this year’s greasepole!

Can we all just take a moment to reflect on the academic year called “Sci ’11”?  Man, I feel old all of a sudden.

Just for giggles, here’s the current list of achievements for Legend of the Greasepole.  I wonder how the crowd around this year’s greasepole would have done.

Pole in Ten (Years!) – (100) –  Stall the frosh for at least 10 minutes
Show Some Discipline – (10) – Proudly display the Discipline bar on your Engineering jacket.
Desperate Times, Desperate Measures – (10) – Wind up your arm fully, completely before you toss a road apple.
It’s The Jam, It’s All Good For You – (20) – Offer ‘za or a drink to the Engineering Society President.
You’re a Hoser – (20) – Cool down the frosh with water from the firehose.
Golden Soda – (50) – Offer a drink to hard-working Al ‘Pop Boy’ Burchell.
Like Homecoming, But With Lanolin – (50) – Quench the crowd’s thirst ’til they slam their leather jackets.
Dizzying Heights – (50) – Send a frosh flying all the way from tam to pit-water.
Iron Ring Ceremony – (100) – Unleash the power of the mighty Iron Ring.
Double Fisting – (150) – Wear two Iron Rings at the same time!
Exam Avoidance – (50) – Stall the frosh for five minutes without lobbing a physics ‘smart bomb’.
Fully Loaded Fun Fur – (70) – Stuff your pockets with 99 apples, 99 slices of ‘za, or 99 Clark mugs.
Secret Achievement – (??) – Keep stalling the frosh to discover this achievement!
Secret Achievement – (??) – Keep stalling the frosh to discover this achievement!
Secret Achievement – (??) – Keep stalling the frosh to discover this achievement!
Secret Achievement – (??) – Keep stalling the frosh to discover this achievement!

Legend of the Greasepole 2007 released for PC and XBox360

Legend of the Greasepole's TetherFroshI’ve posted Windows and XBox360 versions of Legend of the Greasepole 2007 to the Queen’s EngSoc website!

The new version is built with XNA and includes the following new features:

  • Controller support for either the mouse or the XBox360 Controller attached to the PC
  • 3D sound 
  • Modestly enhanced graphics (although we realized it was ultimately a choice between a total revamp or maintaining the “retro” look, and we opted for the nostalgic solution)
  • An installer that can detect and install all prerequisites, and integrate with Windows Vista’s Game Explorer
  • A new version that runs on the XBox360! (!!)
  • “Achievements” which can be unlocked by stalling the Frosh in creative ways.

The Windows version requires a graphics card capable of supporting Pixel Shader version 2.0.  Almost any computer bought within the last couple of years should do.  If your card doesn’t have this support, I’ve also left the Classic Version of Legend of the Greasepole available for download, with a new installer that runs more quickly and also can detect and install the needed prerequisite for Classic Edition (the DirectX runtime).

The XBox360 version is built with XNA and, as such, you currently require a subscription to the XNA Creators Club in order to play it.  If you want to get it up and running on your XBox360, please let me know!

Introducing Legend of the Greasepole Achievements!

For the uninitiated, retail XBox360 games each are gifted with 1,000 “achievement points,” which the game’s designers can divvy up and dish out to players when they accomplish tasks within the game.

Legend of the Greasepole is peppered with “easter eggs” and innovative ways to stall the Frosh that the curious can discover by messing about.  Previously, cleverness would get the crowd roaring and accelerate your earning an Iron Ring.  Adding a more formal Achievement system seemed like an ideal way to further reward a player’s experimentation and creativity, which in fairness is really what The Pole Game (and the actual greasepole, for that matter) is meant to be about.

Our design goal was to create an fun experience rather than a brutally challenging one, including as many references to the memorable traditions of Queen’s Engineering and the Greasepole event as we could possibly cram in.  Hopefully the Achievements will help you find some of them!

XNA doesn’t let you tap into the “official” achievement system, so I had to roll my own.  With thanks to Craig Calvert and McKay Savage, we’ve come up with a first set of achievements and allocated 900 of the 1,000 points. 

If you unlock all the current achievements, we definitely want to hear from you.  (Four of them are secret, the rest are visible from within the game’s main menu.)  If you have ideas for how we should allocate the remaining achievement points, we’d love to hear those too.

Please let me know how you get on with the game, and if you experience any technical difficulties, also please don’t hesitate to let me know, and I’ll do what I can to resolve them.

I have to tip my cap again to the dozens and dozens of Queen’s students who were involved in the game’s production from 1997 through 1999.  It was an enormous amount of fun making this game, and a wash of memories of the very best kind porting it to XNA for re-release.