Monthly Archives: September 2008
Simon Carless at GameSetWatch tips us off to a crazy piece of geek trivia: an internal sales report of Infocom text adventures.
Click for links to complete image scans. The watershed between the two documents is Activision's 1986 acquisition of Infocom.
I don't have a lot to add to the observations in the GSW column. Zork 1 was the biggest hit, and stayed strong throughout the company's existence. Hitchhiker's Guide was their second biggest game; then Zork 2, Deadline, and Zork 3. (But the Zork sequels never did half as well as the original -- a pattern echoed, for example, by the Myst series a decade later.)
I am surprised by the relative weakness of Sorcerer and Spellbreaker -- the latter was hit by nasty stock returns in 1986. (Was there some marketing or distribution screwup there? A lot of the numbers in the '86 column look too small, even assuming the report was written partway through the year.) Contrariwise, Cutthroats was a bigger hit than I ever realized. Probably my biases towards fantasy and against "mundane" fiction are showing. Of Infocom's later games, Wishbringer, Leather Goddesses, and Beyond Zork were the strongest -- but Zork 1 and HHGG just kept on selling.
And then there's Cornerstone, whose story I need not tell.
Are these the numbers I should be trying to beat when I launch my commercial IF career into triumph? Heck, I don't know. Probably not. Even comparing the sales numbers from 1981, 1985, and 1989 is somewhat apples to pomelos, given the enormous expansion of the computer game market over that era. Today's market makes 1989 look like a grape -- and then it's split and split again (consoles, casual gaming, MMO gaming...) and merged with a dozen other industries (movies, cell phones, advertising...) If I imagine a successful IF career today, I see something that runs between casual gamers and reading/blogging devotees. (Yes, folks, people read on the Internet.) Hasn't happened yet, no. I'll let you know.
So, since April of this year, GameCareerGuide has been running these (mostly weekly) game design challenges, aimed at providing some real-worldish challenges to students of game design. They usually have to do with video games, but there have been some that don't deal with video games. The one on spoken word games was neat, and I think the current one on making Monopoly fun could be interesting, as well. Here's the challenge:
Monopoly has been one of the most popular board games of all time. As a new designer for the Parker Brothers, you have been tasked with updating the classic game for a new generation of families to play. The design team understands that the board game has some fundamental flaws and wants to address them.Like I said, they're aimed at students of game design, but they're open to everyone. The deadline for this one is Wednesday, so hurry if you want to enter this week's challenge. I'm very curious to see what people come up with.
The flaws of Monopoly have been identified as follows:
- the game has a very large amount of luck involved
- games go on for a very long time
- once a player has lost the game, they have nothing to do while others play
In order to get the best possible ideas, all the designers on the game are going to propose three new rules or rule changes that address one or more of these flaws. These rules must be written in the same way they would be in an instruction book, and you have been instructed not to be overly complex with the rules to reduce the number of domestic disputes that occur from the game.
Sorry if you've been having a sad time trying to access (or, for some of you, post to) The Gameshelf lately. The jmac.org webserver has been acting very wonky for reasons I haven't sussed out yet. I beg your patience in the meantime.
For your troubles, please enjoy this vaguely game-related tidbit, which I shall feel free to cut-n-paste over from my personal blog:
Deletionpedia is a machine-generated website, built entirely from Wikipedia articles that have been deleted. It itself is not a wiki, even though it copies Wikipedia's page layout. The result is somewhat fantastic.
Its current featured article is this exhaustive list of all the weapons found in the tabletop wargame Warhammer 40,000, complete with what appears to be meticulously fan-made illustrations, many with labeled parts and exploded views. Someone put a hell of a lot of work into this. While I can see why the WP hivemind would give it the boot (WP is famously tolerant of nerdwank, but still has its limits), I'm oddly relieved to know that it's preserved elsewhere.
And there will be a lot of pages like this guy's, a short biography of "a British-based Starship captain, commentator on society and volunteer ticket collector on a steam railway". Or the sad tale of List of Films with Monkeys in Them, which was cut down before it could even grow past three items.
The list of magical things goes on, preserved forever. I am glad this exists.
I noticed a few months ago -- I guess when the E3 PR wave was cresting -- that a new Silent Hill game was coming. Also a Prince of Persia game, and a Tomb Raider game, and now a God of War game, and this "Mirror's Edge" thing looks pretty slick, and it was about then that I realized that I was going to wind up buying myself a PS3 this Consumptimass.
I had tried to avoid it. I have a PS1 and a PS2, but when Sony started piling on the screw-you features (I am not your blu-ray sales rep) I said "You know what? I'll pay a third as much, and ride out this generation of consoles on the Wii. The decent games will be cross-platform anyhow."
As it as turned out, Tomb Raider was cross-platform. Everything else quietly receded into the distance. I played a lot of PC adventure games.
So, okay, I'm getting a PS3. But I haven't been paying attention to the market. Two years' worth of games came out, and I don't know which of them are worth looking at. Time for me to trawl the minds of the Gameshelf Collective. What released PS3 games should I grab?
Assume that I like action-adventure games -- the titles I mention above are a guide. I also liked the Soul Reaver series, Fatal Frame, Sly Cooper, Ratchet+Clank, Okami, and (inevitably) Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Beyond Good and Evil was decent but I wasn't bowled over like everybody else. I'm okay with the more fight-y action games like Onimusha and Devil May Cry, except that I'm not quite good enough to be their target audience (DMC3 was way the hell beyond me). Squad combat and shooters are not my style.
That's a one-dimensional picture, so feel free to mention the quirky and weird as well. (I liked Rez and Katamari too.)
What should I look for in the used-game bin?
Disclaimer:I am an editor at A K Peters, the publisher of this book. Sales of this book help my company; thus, I benefit from the sale of this book. However, I don't get any kind of commission or bonus based on sales of this book, so the benefit is not a direct one. Besides being an employee of the company, I also worked on this book, so I am not necessarily unbiased about it.
A K Peters is publishing a book called Creating Games: Mechanics, Content, and Technology by Morgan McGuire and Odest Chadwicke Jenkins. From the authors' website for the book (which contains a full TOC):
"This book is a comprehensive introduction to the process and theories of game development. It is written for academic games courses, professionals new to the games industry, and indie development teams. The book includes worksheets and exercises that cumulate in a game design document."Basically, it talks about each area of video game development (much of which can be, and explicitly is in parts of the book, applied to board games), in enough detail so that you know what's going on in that area and are able to talk to the people who do work in that area. There's a lot of good stuff in there (I've read the whole book word-for-word, which, contrary to what might be generally believed, is not something an editor in technical publishing does for every book he or she works on), and I think it's something that might be interesting to people who read this blog, even if they never intend to develop a video game.
So, I wanted to put an excerpt up here, and I debated putting one of the meaty chapters of the book up, but I decided that the games canon that appears as an appendix of the book might actually be more interesting for the blog. So, here's the canon. I'll just note that this book is copyrighted by A K Peters, 2008, and used by permission (I asked the publisher). All rights reserved. The book should be out around Thanksgiving, and you can preorder it from the A K Peters website or from Amazon.
The Games Canon
(Appendix F from Creating Games: Mechanics, Content, and Technology by Morgan McGuire and Odest Chadwicke Jenkins)
Famous, infamous, radically innovative, critically acclaimed, or blockbuster successes, these are games everyone in the field should know about. They form the base of prior art. In any field, professionals work within a mainstream culture that references important previous work. These form the critical jargon (e.g., "this painting references Van Gogh's Starry Night") and the cultural context for new ideas.
Research is important in any field. It is how we build on the successes of the past and avoid their failures. You wouldn't try to write a book or create a car without first learning about the ones that preceded yours. When creating a game, you should research previous games. This list summarizes some of the most important games. It is intended as a jumping-off point for further research if a game sounds like one you'd like to make. Read through it to familiarize yourself with the previous work. No game designer would be taken seriously without at least passing familiarity with these titles, and most designers have studied several of them in depth.
For brevity, only the most critically acclaimed (or derided) and popular games are listed. In many cases, a previous game introduced a concept (e.g., Crystal Caverns predated Wolfenstein) but had a minor impact. These also include the games that designers often list as their major influences.
For additional cannon lists, see Lowder's book for an excellent recent review of major board games by famous game designers, boardgamegeek.com for up-to-date Internet ratings, and Wikipedia's best-selling (if not best) video game list at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_video_games.
The minicanon contains the bare minimum set of games that you should be familiar with to appreciate the examples in this book and start making your own games. A games course should offer these or equivalents to students at a minimum, and anyone serious about games should own them. Most of these games are explained in more depth in the following sections and referenced throughout the text (see the index for references). Note that these aren't necessarily the absolute best games in their class, according to one specific design criterion, but they are likely the most widely acclaimed, easiest to acquire, and successful.
- Carcassonne by Klaus-Juergen Wrede is a board game that features tile-laying and semicooperative mechanics. It has multiple ways of earning points, relatively low variance, and deep strategy and is supported by a series of expansions and alternative rule sets.
- Settlers of Catan by Klaus Teuber is a board game with trading and building mechanics. Settlers and Carcassonne cover most of the mechanics found in modern strategic German board games and clarify the differences in mechanics and business models that distinguish them from ancient games and twentieth-century American games. They have also both successfully been converted to Xbox 360 video games. Puerto Rico is a good substitute for Settlers and features similar mechanics and theme but more advanced play and better balance.
- Chess is representative of ancient strategy games. It is played internationally from casual to tournament levels and features rich emergent play. Almost everyone is immediately familiar with the basics of the game, and the knight and king playing pieces are challenged only by the six-sided die for the iconic status as the symbol of gaming in general.
- Go beats chess in complexity (due to the large board), age, and elegance (there are only two rules to the game!). Although less popular in America than chess, many classic mechanics and strategies arise directly from the rules of go, including encirclement, flanking, captures, and variable board size.
- Poker is a gambling card game that rivals all other games in terms of tournament popularity and purse size. It is exemplary as a classic card game and relies almost exclusively on bidding mechanics, which can be studied in depth through the many variants on this game. Poker is familiar to most gamers and requires only a standard deck of cards to play.
- StarCraft, or any other major RTS/TBS video game (e.g., Warcraft, Civilization, Populous, Master of Orion, Empire Earth), is a requirement for any game developer. We have a slight preference for the Age of Empires series, which combines some modern RTS UI conventions and elements of casual gameplay to make the games more accessible to new players (and also has a free demo of the latest version). These play like a board game but with mechanics so complex that you need a computer to resolve them, nicely showing the transition from strategy to tabletop wargame to computer game. The character-building RPG mechanics made famous by Diablo and Dungeons & Dragons all appear in RTS games, but the "character" is the army or civilization. Mechanics are at the forefront of RTS games, and these are a celebration of complexity.
- Half-Life 2 stands out among FPS games. It is exemplary as a shooter, and the engine supports the other popular shooters Counter-Strike and Team Fortress, but HL2 also pushes farther toward storytelling than any other FPS and is among the most technically sophisticated of its time in terms of technology and Internet distribution business model. We believe that the original Half-Life had a better quality balance (HL2's graphics and physics advanced substantially, but the puzzles, mechanics, and story were at the same level as HL1) but believe that new gamers would appreciate HL2 more because they are accustomed to modern graphics and audio.
- Tetris is iconic as a puzzle and casual game, and decades after its introduction is still considered the standard to meet. The elegant gameplay, tremendous commercial success, and geometric twist on dominoes meets Connect Four make this game a classic. Bejeweled, Hexen, Maki, and other popular arcade puzzle games are directly inspired by Tetris.
- Guitar Hero and its sequels were neither the first rhythm games nor the first guitar games, but they took the genre to perhaps its natural acme. Guitar Hero 2 and Rock Band (by the same developer, Harmonix, and the moral sequel to GH2) are the best of the series. By combining a physical prop with popular music, these games offer broad casual gamer appeal and have consistently been among the best sellers every year since their introduction. Reasonable substitutes are Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), Karaoke Revolution, PaRappa the Rapper, and Guitar Freaks, although these do not have the same mass appeal.
- Super Mario Bros. and its many sequels (e.g., Mario 64, Super Mario 3, Super Mario Galaxy) stand out as best-of-breed platformers. These have tight arcade controls for hardcore gamers combined with cartoony content for casual players. They are polished to a shine by Nintendo's development team and feature a Japanese experiential aesthetic that is still grounded enough for mainstream Western audiences. The Mario games are consistently among the best-selling games of all time, and Mario is probably the most recognizable (and longest lived) video game character—the video game equivalent of Mickey Mouse. As with most of Nintendo's most popular games, the Mario games were designed by Shigeru Miyamoto.
- The Sims 2 and its sequels and expansions are the best of breed (and best-selling) of the god game/pet-raising genre games. These feature most of the mechanical complexity of an RTS, but that complexity is buried behind fiction so compelling that the player's mental model invariably aligns with the artificial characters and not the mechanics. The Sims series is often considered the best-selling video game of all time, taking sequels and expansion packs into account. The game was designed by industry veteran Will Wright, who dedicated it to the memory of Dan Bunten, author of M.U.L.E.
- Indigo Prophecy is deeply flawed in its action sequences, and the plot goes haywire halfway through the game, yet it is one of the best examples of the potential for interactive fiction. This arcane mystery game features characters that the player will really empathize with and scenes that inspire true anxiety, fear, desire, and awe. Although few narrative games can touch Indigo Prophecy, some other well-respected narrative games include Dreamfall and Jade Empire. The older Lucas Arts games (many by Tim Schafer and with writing by Orson Scott Card) feature rich characterization, humor, and fantastic scenes but only occasionally gripping narratives: The Secret of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, and The Dig.
Even after ending their contract with Nintendo, Silicon Knights CEO, Denis Dyack is still asked if there are any plans for a sequel to Eternal Darkness. His answers regarding sequels have been strongly misinterpreted and there are many rumors being made without any basis at all.
“I am most often asked if we have sequels in mind for Eternal Darkness. The answer is absolutely yes.”
- Denis Dyack, Silicon Knights Blog, July 06, 2006
This does not mean there are fragments of Eternal Darkness 2 code and media hidden in their offices. It means they have ideas for a sequel if they ever had a chance to make one.
Although Eternal Darkness did not sell very well, it is well known for inventing “video game insanity”, literally. As the player progresses through the game, there is a sanity meter in addition to the common health and mana meters. The lower the sanity meter lowers, the more distorted the gameplay becomes. This can happen in various ways:
- The camera tilts at an odd angle
- Sounds of people screaming and crying loudly
- Walls bleeding
- Statue heads turn towards the player as they walk
- The sound of loud knocking on doors
- The screen turns black with the word “VIDEO” on the top-right corner as if the GameCube was turned off. The sound of your character being attacked can be heard in the background.
- After saving a game, it will ask “Would you like to erase all data?” and will appear to erase the data no matter what was chosen.
- The player will be attacked by monsters and the message “Please reconnect your GameCube controller” will appear at the bottom.
- The game will pretend to crash and display the infamous “blue screen of death”
- All doors in the room will be locked, making the player think they are trapped in the level.
- Insects will appear to be crawling on the television screen.
- The game will suddenly end with the message that “Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Redemption” will be coming out soon. This does not mean a sequel will be made!
There are many effects, and after some of these effects, everything will go back to normal (or more normal) with the player’s character screaming, “This can’t be happening”. The player can also recover sanity by performing finishing moves on monsters and casting recovery spells. The player’s health starts to drain after sanity reaches zero. I admit that there were times when I intentionally lowered my sanity just to see how many effects I can encounter. It was this method of messing with the player’s mind that gave it good reviews. It was weird enough to stop and think about what just happened, entertaining enough to find more effects and happens occasionally enough to make it hard to tell when it will happen next. It is a freaky game with a deep story and amazing audio. In addition, Eternal Darkness is the first mature rated game ever published by Nintendo.
Whenever a game is published by Nintendo, they own certain portions of the game, while Silicon Knights own other portions such as the characters themselves. The sanity system has also been patented (no. 6,935,954). The inventors are Henri Sterchi and Denis Dyack of Silicon Knights and Edward Ridgeway of Nintendo. It is because of this patent which stopped other developers from ripping off the sanity system for other games. In addition, it has never been made clear whether Eternal Darkness is an intellectual property owned by Silicon Knights or Nintendo.
“It’s not time to even talk about those other kinds of things for various different reasons. Nintendo, who’s still our silent partner, a lot of people don’t know that. We have a great relationship with those guys, and it’s not time to talk about Eternal Darkness 2.”
“It’s a complicated question with a complicated answer and we’re not answering the question.”
- Denis Dyack, Interview with Joystiq
Nintendo still owns stock of Silicon Knights, even though they have nothing to do with any of their current projects such as the Too Human trilogy. In addition, it has never been made clear why Silicon Knights did not renew their contract with Nintendo after developing only two games with them: Eternal Darkness and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes.
Denis Dyack also stated that they want to make different types of games without being stuck in a single genre. He said that there is plenty of “undiscovered country”, with ideas that have not been quite explored yet. Dyack also made a very fascinating comparison between the video game and movie industry and stated that the major publishers are merging together to become larger and make fewer and better movies to make higher profits. Of the hundreds of games released last year, it is impossible to review each one and make a profit off each one as well. Video game publishers are also echoing this, with Activision Blizzard being an example of this.
However, I believe that Steam, WiiWare, Xbox Live Arcade, and the PlayStation Network make it possible for smaller developers to continue selling their games. Unfortunately, this does not make the process of pitching an idea any easier.
In conclusion, there is no strong evidence that shows that we will be seeing an Eternal Darkness sequel anytime soon. With the legal barriers and the need for confidentiality, Denis Dyack does not have any other answers other than the fact that it is “complicated”. Even though I never finished Eternal Darkness, I would love to play a sequel should it ever get developed someday. Until then, Silicon Knights has a lot of work ahead of them with the Too Human trilogy and a bunch of unknown games they will be working on in between. These unknown games will be different from their other games in every way, in genre, gameplay, appearance, plot, etc. They have made many achievements with their games and working with Microsoft and Nintendo and did a great job of placing Canada on the map for game developers. The only person we can trust in regards to an Eternal Darkness sequel is Denis Dyack.
So Spore is out. Everyone I know is either playing it or talking about it. This includes people who do not play videogames. So to that degree, Will Wright has pwned the planet.
As a gamer, the biggest discussion I see about Spore is that DRM argument. (Don't buy Spore (yet) says my friend peterb, and then goes on to talk about the completely terrible game experience that so many people are having. Boingboing inevitably picks up the topics, etc.) The notable statistic is the Amazon product page, which shows -- as I write this -- 1911 one-star reviews hating on the DRM, versus just 166 with higher ratings (two stars or more). For a game released four days ago.
Now, I'm pretty sure this Amazon review thing is a stunt. No videogame gets that many reviews that fast. Katamari Damacy, a hit for the past four years, has just 244 reviews; The Sims 2 (the previous Will Wright megablast, also four years old) has 889.
More importantly, Amazon reviews are notoriously a big pile of hooey. They're one step above Youtube comments, and you can find 1900 Youtube commenters willing to fart in five-part harmony just by turning over a rock and filming it.
However, it's a valid stunt. Fred Benenson, an early commenter on this mess, calls it "dis-organized collective action". Nobody thinks 90% of Spore players are dissatisfied customers -- but the dissatisfaction with crappy usage restrictions has made a big visible splash this week. That will resonate with the vast silent majority of game players, who grumble about stupid policies but eat the shit sandwich because it doesn't usually affect most of them.
And if this turns out to be organized collective action, hey, it's community organization. That's how stuff gets done.
I have nothing to add about the Spore experience, because I didn't buy Spore.
I bought the Spore Creature Creator -- the play-with-dolls part of the game, which was released a few months ago by itself -- because it seemed like a quirky idea and I wanted to support that. As it turned out, none of my computers can run the Creature Creator. (The Mac desktop isn't Intel, the Windows box has horrible sound-card pops, and the laptop is still on OSX 10.4.) One day I will upgrade the laptop, or the Windows sound drivers, and the thing will probably work then.
Then I looked at Spore, looked at all the hoo-ha, and bought Spore Origins -- aka iPhone Spore. Ten bucks in the iPhone App Store. No activation codes. No three-machine limit. No being arbitrarily yelled at for being a thief. You download it, tap the icon, and you're playing a bacterium.
Obviously the iPhone is not a DRM-free device. It is restricted up the wazoo. But Sporigins isn't any more restricted than any other iPhone app. I'm using it under the terms that I've already bought into. So, there's no resistance there.
Similarly, I'm looking forward to playing Bioshock this fall. Bioshock was released using the same oft-maligned SecuROM copy-protection that Spore uses. I will bypass this -- legally -- by buying Bioshock for Playstation. DRM? Sure, but it's not infecting my computer with anything, and it's not making the PS3 any more broken than it is out of the box. So the hell with it.
(This is not a blind "I don't care about DRM on iPhone/PS3" position. I will be able to play that copy of Bioshock for as long as I can find PS3s on eBay. That is an important criterion and I wouldn't buy a console without it. The iPhone is a less certain proposition, but the active jailbreaking community gives me some assurance that if and when Apple lets the iPhone drop by the wayside, I will be able to monkey my apps into it if I really want to. Or, more likely, into some kind of emulator.)
Electronic Arts wants you to believe that your computer is broken out of the box. If they're right, you don't care about SecuROM, you don't care that your software doesn't work reliably, and you don't care that your game purchase is a rental. This is a political position which they will win or lose, depending on how many people they convince -- and how many people are convinced they are wrong. That's why a wave of Amazon reviews, stunt or not, is at the heart of the matter.
Rather late on this one, but the folks at brainygamer.com started a group play-through of Deus Ex, the watershed shooter/RPG hybrid published in 2000. It started last week, but it's based around a public forum, so jumping in at any time and following along should work just fine. I presently lack the resources to join in myself, but I love the idea of a book-club approach to exploring games.
I wonder if this would work with other sorts of games? Pick a notable but rarely played board game, and have a large group of people around the world play it separately a few times and then trade notes on the experience, perhaps?
Meanwhile, The Gameshelf got a nice shout-out from indie-game maven Auntie Pixelante last month. She made the observation that the show enjoys taking several games from completely disparate media (with special attention to the gulf between digital and tabletop games) and finding ways to link them together anyway. Oddly, this isn't one I hear too often, even though it's indeed central to how I organize each episode. It's been so long since we last put a show together that I was like, "Hey, that's rather clever of them."
As for Ms. Pixelante's own work, she's clearly quite fascinated by games that use giant chunky pixels for their visual style, to the point that she's designed a couple nice ones herself. Mighty Jill Off borrows some sprites from the ancient arcade game Mighty Bomb Jack, and then wraps them in a rubber-fetish suit and makes them climb to the top of an absurdly tall tower. I played this straight through to the end in about half an hour. I haven't yet gotten all the way through Calamity Annie, a pure-twitch game themed on quick-draw gunfights, and which makes very clever use of its single verb (shoot!) to get through interactive cutscenes.
The context of those posts was Myst fandom. But my original inspiration was a Harry Potter fanfic RPG called Nocturne Alley.
I don't know how the thing got started; it only hit my attention at its end, in mid-2004. That was the culmination of a two-year arc of Livejournal posts. A group of people took the roles of characters from the HP books -- one each, and their real identities were not public. And the characters started keeping public journals. And commenting in each others' journals. And stuff happened.
The game started in Hogwarts Year Five, I believe. (The fifth book was not yet out at that point, so they were working in as-yet-unmapped territory.) Naturally, being fanfic, it diverged rapidly from Rowling's plan. (Sirius and Remus wound up married. That sort of thing. Fanfic.)
It was a long-running, collaborative performance which contained a wealth of detail and characterization. More detail, in fact, than anyone can possibly assimilate. There's no way you can read Nocturne Alley. I've linked to the LJ community page, and there's an indirect index too, but you'd spend weeks re-reading everything. This is an art form which, in an odd way and despite being online, exists only in real time.
(A single link I found interesting: questions answered by an organizer, afterwards.)
So why am I mentioning this now? Because Alternity has just started. This is a new Harry Potter game, and it starts from the beginning -- September 1, Harry's first day at school. Only not as in The Philosopher's Stone. In this scenario, Voldemort, er, won. As Lord Protector Marvolo, he controls England... and he's just sent his eleven-year-old adopted son Harry Marvolo to Hogwarts.
The conceits of the game:
- It's in real time. Today is September 4th, 1991, game time. The first-years are in their fourth day at school. Christmas is Christmas, summer break is summer break, and -- at least in plan -- Alternity will run for seven real years.
- Journal posts are journal posts. The game consists of what people say in their (public) journals. There are no transcripts of what is "really" happening, unless a character chooses to write about it.
- Journals are public. (Voldemort's Ministry of Magic wants to encourage discussion that they can eavesdrop on.)
- One exception: the good-guy conspiracy has managed to set up a private conference. (Posts marked "Order Only" are presumed visible only to Order of the Phoenix members.) It is implied that the bad guys can do something similar. Naturally, first-year students are not trusted with such secrets, no matter how well-raised they are.
(Well, that's easy to say. I don't know how much I'll be following myself. My daily net-reading habits are not set up to just add a stream of livejournal. I try to avoid passive reading; if I don't take action to go look, I don't see it. And seven years is a long time. But I'm interested in how these things run.)