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Dual-screen action, Daisy Miller, Desktop Linux and Civilization Goes Fourth

I like long blog entry titles. They imply that I've been doing lots of things recently, as opposed to just playing games. But it's not true: I've been playing games. Many games.

Previously I blogged about Quake 4, and having completed that I was left with a taste for more mindless destruction. So, I tried F.E.A.R for a day or two. If you're thinking about buying this, don't: it's a mindless menagerie of office shootings, dark rooms, random "this is gonna be scary, huh huh!" bits and dull chit-chat between characters you don't care about. So, that one didn't last me very long.

Then, thankfully, Civilization IV arrived. I've been waiting for this for a long time, so I was eager to try it out. First impressions: superficially it's very different to Civ As We Know It (CAWKI), but after a few hours of playing you realise that it's really the same game underneath and you feel at home. Then, after a day or two of playing, you start to notice that you were quite confused earlier, and really it's a very different game indeed.

In previous Civ games I could play peacefully and build up a research/culture-oriented empire, and win by getting to Alpha Centauri. In Civ IV, someone also seems to want to fight a pointless war with me, for little provocation. This doesn't annoy me - it actually makes me sad, because I was looking forward to many hours of happily hand-crafting empires, and now I just get stuck in dumb firefights in the dark ages.

Still, I rather like the fact that there are no more static governments (you build your own government type based on several categories), I get a kick out of spreading religion everywhere I go and one of these days the Hudzonian Federation will rule the world! Well, at least in Civ...

The Hudzonian Federation consists of Hud Town, Zilla Villa and several other most excellent cities

When not playing Civ IV, I've been playing on my Nintendo DS. For a long time now, I've been trying to convince my wife, Ildiko, to get one. Then, suddenly, we get two - one for her, and one for me (pink and blue, natch). We picked up a stack of games, too, and they are hugely addictive to play. I realise now that anyone who has played and enjoyed a DS game couldn't possibly want to purchase a PSP; the two hand-helds are completely different.

Nintendo DS rocks my world

In other news, those who are tracking my reading preference will be pleased to hear I'm up to Daisy Miller. With all the gaming I've done recently, I must admit I haven't read much. I think this is a problem for journalists, as it leads us to get stale in our style, repetitive in our vocabulary and lacklustre in our phrasing. So, I need to read more. Prizes are available to those who spot cultural references in my own work.

Finally, I want to talk about desktop Linux. Matthew Szulik's idea that desktop Linux is like teenage sex (everyone is doing it, but no one is talking about it) is cute, but not really true. I'm all for Linux on the desktop, but there are a number of problems that need to be solved before it will catch the interest of those that matter. So, without further ado, I present Hudzilla's Guide to Making 2007 The Year of Desktop Linux:

  1. Every GUI programmer, designer and tester must go to the Better Desktop project and watch all the videos personally. Set up a Torrent if you want, share it with your friends, convert it to iPod format and watch it on the move. Whatever, just watch it. You'll see non-geek users trying out Linux, you'll see the expressions on their face, their body language and their mouse and keyboard operations on the screen. For a given operation, some people "get it" first time, some people get it with some experimentation, and a worrying number get it by trying everything randomly. These are our users, folks; if you're not designing your user interfaces for them, who are you designing them for?
  2. Take a look at the Tango Project, which aims to create a consistent, unified and attractive user experience for free software. This looks to be the most exciting desktop development we've seen this year, and with the backing of people from Mozilla and Novell this may well be working its way into the Gnome desktop sometime soon. I just hope the KDE guys take it on board too...
  3. Go and have a look at the GUI of F-Spot. Go and have a look at the GUI of Diva. These are fresh, new projects that revitalise Gnome simplicity without losing functionality. We should all aspire to be this good at design.
  4. Read what usability experts are saying. My favourite such person is Seth Nickell - his blog is rarely updated, but even the older content is helpful, to the point and worth taking onboard. You should also visit the OpenUsability site, but I admit I'm prone to take their advice with a pinch of salt simply on the grounds that their homepage is pretty hard to read! Still, the project is still in the early days, and I think it will make a substantial contribution to open source.

We should all learn to Tango

Why the guide for 2007 rather than 2006? Well, if you've done all the above, and think you can understand it all, discuss it with others, come up with a plan for your own work and implement it all in time for the new year, I think you've misunderstood the goal. If we're going to make a community-wide push towards usability it shouldn't be something that's half-baked. Take your time, and get it right - users everywhere will thank you for it.

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