Saturday, 13 October 2012

Vox Ludio: Richard Brittain

Richard Brittain The last Vox Ludio, featuring Innis Carson, received a lot of nice feedback so here's another. The subject of today's interview is the incomparable Richard Brittain, champion of Countdown Series 55 and long-time apterous player. His Countdown career ended with a notorious conundrum guess in 2009's Champion of Champions XIII but he's continued to play on apterous over the years. I really enjoyed this interview and I hope you do too!

Charlie Reams: You were one of apterous' first users after it opened to the public in 2008. What was your initial motivation to start playing? Do you remember your first game?
Richard Brittain: I just looked back at some accounts, and, interestingly, Ecclesiastes Myanmar (a creation of mine) was created on 06/10/2008, and my real account was created on 29/10/2008. So, although I don't remember this, it seems that I first created fictional, silly accounts before a serious one. I seem to recall first creating an account called 'roko roko' (which, apterous says, was created several hours before Ecclesiastes Myanmar).

So, it would, at first glance, seem that my first motivation was to cheat under the guise of an outlandish moniker, using some dodgy anagram solver which probably wasn't even OED. I suppose I didn't feel guilty because I was just testing out a new site and hadn't started 'playing seriously' yet and thus had no responsibilities, and cheated against such figures as Damian Eadie, Keith Bevins and Mikey Lear, who I would later walk to Jerusalem with.

I guess I was also preparing for the CofC. Perhaps I wanted to play anonymously, so that players could not analyse my weaknesses - I can't quite remember. Anyhow, I created my real account before the CofC was recorded, so must have realised that a) I had no chance of winning the CofC so might as well start using my real identity. b) Cheating under spectacular monikers is actually quite boring.

After creating Richard Brittain, I pledged to play seriously and never again cheated. For me, on any game, cheating gives me no satisfaction and would blemish any serious account.

CR: You're known for being one of the most eccentric characters in a community of eccentric characters. Is that something you cultivate or is it a natural part of your personality?
RB: It's difficult to explain. I suppose I am a fairly different person now to the person I was, say, 4 years ago. Comparing the old RB with the new RB would be a little bit like trying to compare the Roman Empire with the Holy Roman Empire - They are similar in name, but not much else. Sometimes I look back on some things I may have said or wrote online, and I think 'Wtf?'. But, I'm pretty sure that most of it was real and not cultivated. However, I probably did play on people's fears and expectations to some extent. It's quite sad really - I think I was eating too much coleslaw (or too little?).

CR: People might not realise that we in fact knew each other as children, since our parents were friends from their school days, although we lost touch when they did. Do you think the seeds of our respective fascinations with Countdown etc were somehow sown in that youthful interaction?
RB: I would like to think so. This is one of those strange-but-true facts. I certainly remember visiting the Reams' house in my youth about once a year. I grew up on the fringes of London, and thus it was exciting to visit a countryside house with a swimming pool. I first thought seriously about applying for Countdown at the age of about 17/18, several years after we had drifted out of touch with the Reamses, and I stumbled upon some images on the web of a Co-meet and saw a figure called Soo Reams, and thought, 'Gosh; that looks like that Charlie Reams fellow'.

CR: You've held all sorts of records in various formats over the years. Which of your achievements are you most personally satisfied with?
RB: For a short while, I dominated the Bullet scene, but then I guess other people figured out how to play Bullet and I became a has-been. However, I was the first to max a Bullet Numbers Attack, and didn't even have too many attempts. Since then, I have sometimes tried to break new records, and will occasionally be seen having an obscene number of attempts against bots, but have not succeeded. This just goes to show that you can't 'brute force' records. They will come to you when they are ready.

CR: And you also hold the record for most maxes in a Greek 15, albeit in an 81-way tie, so that's not to be sniffed at. Are you a fan of non-English play? Are you still learning Hebrew?
RB: Just checked the stats, and I am the 4th best Hebrew player, which is quite satisfying. I learnt some elementary Hebrew while studying Theology at Leuven, Belgium, which was about the third degree I dropped out of (Though, I am now studying History at Greenwich uni, and have made it to the 2nd year). I am only fluent in English, but enjoy playing different language variants on apterous.

CR: You didn't get the call-up for the forthcoming Countdown Champions Event. Did you apply? Were you disappointed not to make it? (Ed's note: I feel I can broach this sensitive subject since I didn't make the cut either!)
RB: Yes, I applied, to which Damian replied 'I thought you were certified insane'. But then he said 'Maybe. Let's see how it pans out'. Recently, I got an email to say I was on the reserve list (with, probably, about 200 other people). Really, though, I wouldn't invite myself back on to Countdown. I disgraced the show with my Gandiseeg appearance, and my presence in the studio could potentially unsettle other participants. From the producer's perspective, it wasn't worth the risk. Although I would have taken it seriously and respected the spirit of the competition, the producers couldn't be sure that I would not spoil their 30th birthday party. I must say, I am surprised by much of the list, and I probably won't watch the competition.

CR: I look back on that with the Gandiseeg episode with a lot of fondness although I'm a bit tired of the joke now. Since you won't be watching, have you moved on to other things? You're rarely seen on apterous nowadays.
RB: True story: I was at a house-warming party recently, and a group of people watched Gandiseeg/Saloneen several times whilst tripping on acid and rolling around in laughter. I'm glad that I have left this fairly unique legacy, but I am bored and slightly embarrassed by this 'joke' now.

I've watched only a handful of Countdown episodes in the last 3 years. I am still up for playing apterous, once I've installed java on this new machine. Recently, I have been watching a lot of historical epics, reading books, playing Civilization 4, walking round London aimlessly and quizzing.

CR: Do you still have that beard?
RB: The beard comes and goes. It's there right now - Charlemagne - but might not be next week - when I'm Julius Caesar again (how/why did people even shave in Roman times?)

CR: Thanks for the interview!

And there you have it. See you for the next edition!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Server maintenance

The game will be unavailable from 8pm today (12 September 2012) until about midnight for some important maintenance.


  • 21:10. Backup completed, server is in transit!
  • 00:15. Server has arrived at its new home, now for the hard bit!
  • 00:45. We're back! Tentatively.
  • 00:46. Dan McColm entered the room. Dan McColm says: yay!

Anticipated FAQs

Why is it down for me but not other people?
The server is moving physical location, which also means its Internet address will change, so the name "" will briefly be pointing to the old expired address. I will update it to point to the new address as soon as the move begins, but ISPs store their own local copy of this information and it will take them a while to notice the change. If your ISP happens to be one of the slow ones, it might take them a bit longer to update it -- maybe up to 24 hours.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Vox Ludio: Innis Carson

Innis Carson This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of articles in which I pester apterous players for their thoughts on various things and share them with you, the loyal player base. Hopefully this will interesting and give some perspective on players at various skill levels, and maybe even stimulate some discussion. (On which subject, apologies to anyone who tried to comment on the last post; apparently Blogger is having some trouble and ate all the comments, including mine. Sigh.)

So, where better to start than with the player who has just recorded his 62nd consecutive week atop Pro Ranks, another accolade to add to his quite astonishing stack of them: Innis Carson. It hardly seems necessary to introduce him; since starting out in November 2008, Innis has set innumerable records across multiple languages and variants and is, by almost any reckoning, simply the best player in the game right now. Now on to the good stuff.

Charlie Reams: How and when did you first discover apterous?
Innis Carson: I was one of the several hundred people who flocked to the c4countdown forum out of curiosity when you plugged it on TV back in October 2008, and I followed a link from there to the then-new apterous website. For a mind-game-loving internet nerd like me, it was like stumbling upon a treasure trove. Back then the website was a lot smaller and the game much less developed than it now is, but the possibility of playing and chatting with other enthusiasts gave it a sort of community feeling, which made it infinitely more enjoyable than any other online game I'd ever come across. Instantly I was hooked, and 3 and a half years later I still very much am.

CR: Was there a point at which you decided to put in the hours to excel, or was it more of an organic process? Were there particular landmarks along the way?
IC: It definitely wasn't something I planned; I would have been horrified if someone told me when I was starting out that I'd end up spending over 2000 hours playing! It just so happened that I found apterous during a particularly dull year of my life when I was still at school but had an unconditional place at university, leaving me with no motivation to study or even turn up to school. Apterous filled a vacuum in my life at that point, and I probably spent more time playing it than is healthy for a human being. Those first 8 months or so were when I made the bulk of my progress as a player. It was always purely voluntary though, it's never felt like a training regime. I only ever play when I want to, which just happens to be quite a lot.

There were lots of small landmarks for me during the process - I remember being thrilled when I first got a max score in a 15 rounder, and each time I reached a new height in the ratings list and Pro Ranks. Another quite significant milestone for me was my first win against Kirk Bevins, who was very much the dominant player in the earlier days of apterous. Seeing each of my personal targets fall one by one was immensely satisfying, and definitely spurred me on to keep playing.

CR: Are there any players you particularly look forward to playing? Either competitively or recreationally.
IC: It's very hard to pick favourites - I'm very happy to play anyone, and everyone makes their own contribution to the apterous community. I'd say Adam Gillard in particular is always fun to play with since he's willing to experiment with the more off-the-wall variants of the game - like Hypertouch, Aegilops and Bullet - which most players steer clear of, and shares my appreciation for statistical and linguistic quirks that only us and about 4 other people on the planet find interesting. From a competitive point of view, Dan McColm and James Nguyen spring to mind as examples of people who will always push me to the limit and give me a great game, there are countless others though.

CR: What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment in the game?
IC: Again it's difficult to choose one, but completing the Star Chart (except the CSW path, I'm allergic) was a pretty significant one, in that it required me to reach a competitive standard in practically every discipline of the game. Admittedly it's largely a test of will power rather than skill (Star 30 of the American Way took me no fewer than 70 attempts), and no doubt many players could achieve this too if they cared to, but there's something very gratifying about looking at a complete wall of stars and knowing that you can overcome pretty much any challenge the game has to offer if you put your mind to it.

(If you ever introduce a Spoilage path, you're a dick.) (Is that a feature request?! — CR)

CR: You've topped the monthly Duel leader boards 19 times from 24 in the last two years and rarely miss a day. How do you stay motivated for the long-haul contests like that? Is it still stimulating or is it now something of a chore?
IC: It's definitely not a chore, I would have given up long ago if it was. The Duel is one of the very best features of the site in my opinion, since it only requires a small time commitment and it gives everyone something to aim towards, whether it's an individual win for casual players or the monthly title for the more dedicated. I certainly can't take it for granted that I'll win the monthly contest - there are plenty of great all-rounders like Matt Bayfield and Adam G who almost always match me every step of the way, and there's enough variety in the duel formats that you never know who'll have their moment of glory next. And even putting the leaderboards aside, the duel serves as a nice light-hearted challenge that you can log on and test yourself with whenever you've got a spare few minutes. I'd only ever miss one if I had no internet access that day for whatever reason.

CR: You're often a front-runner when new variants and formats appear, setting high scores in the first few days that prove to have considerable longevity. Is that something you look forward to? Do you think the different variants draw on essentially the same skills or is there a new learning experience each time?
IC: Well there's no doubt that those who can play the Normal variant well will by and large be the same people who can play Octorock or Lockdown Jr. well; ultimately the underlying skills of pattern recognition and word retention pervade all variants (maybe to a lesser extent in the mindscrew variants like Hyper Unlimited and Duckdown). That said, I do think each variant gives a subtly different perspective on the game, enough that they help keep the game fresh, even if they don't always present much of a new challenge. I'm always keen to try new variants when they come out. The first few days of each variant's lifetime, where everyone's fighting over the high scores, are particularly good fun.

On a related note, playing variants is a seriously underappreciated way to get better at the game. In my earlier apterous days I used to play Speedgoat/Goatblitz nearly as much as I played Normal, and I strongly suspect it did far more to improve my word knowledge and anagram skills than playing Normal ever did. I daresay it's also more fun (these two observations might not be unrelated). I definitely think people who stick religiously to 30-second Normal 15 rounders are missing out on a huge part of the apterous experience.

CR: People often consider you one of the more quiet and introverted amongst the top players. Do you think your personality affects your play, how people play against you, or how they consider your achievements?
IC: I do have difficulty expressing myself in a social way (both online and off) and it wouldn't really surprise me if, as a result, people got the impression that I take apterous too seriously. In reality though I'm just in it for the fun like everyone else - I certainly wouldn't have the patience to spend 2000 hours of my free time doing something I didn't enjoy. In general apterous seems to be a relatively understanding community towards introverts (as one might expect from an online word game!) so I haven't found it to have too much of an impact on my experience with the game or with other members.

CR: As the game's top player, you presumably receive a lot of challenges. Do you prefer the closely-contested games against other top players or the more exhibition-type games against newer players who just want to see you in action?
IC: It's definitely a lot more satisfying to be involved in a competitive match, where both players' performances are noteworthy, than it is to completely overshadow somebody. Hopefully people won't interpret this as me saying that I don't like playing newer and lower-rated players; I enjoy all games and will always accept a challenge when I can, but it definitely adds another layer of enjoyment for me when there isn't an automatic expectation that I'm going to win.

CR: What motivates you to keep playing and improving? Do you have unfinished goals in the game?
IC: There aren't really any long-term goals left for me now, I've already progressed way more than I could have fathomed that I ever would when I first joined the site. There's always going to be little things to aim towards, like getting max games and high scores in obscure formats and finally spotting that 9 you've always known but never had a chance to use, but ultimately, apterous still serves me well enough as an amusing time-waster that I don't really need any further motivation to keep playing. The friendships I've made with other members and the fun I've had at the occasional in-person tournaments (such as Co:Lon) contribute a lot to the lasting appeal of apterous too. There hasn't been a point where I've seriously contemplated giving up playing, and I don't foresee there being one any time soon.

CR: Thanks for your time!

And there you have it. I hope this was an enjoyable change from the usual introspective ramblings. Let me know via the comments if you'd like to see more or less of this sort of stuff in future.

Monday, 7 May 2012

The new front page

A month ago I wrote about the ticket system and its limitations. To recapitulate, my complaints were: attending to tickets left less time for my own really new ideas; it's hard to say no to other people's ideas; and the only person who read the tickets was me. Well, a lot has changed in the last month, thanks to two big, related changes. The first is the total overhaul of the front page, and the other is the introduction of ticket voting.

Overhauling the front page has been on my mental list of priorities for a while but I could never quite figure out how to do it. Realising that I wanted to find some way to get tickets onto the front page (suggested by comments on the previous article) was the first step; that would clearly require compressing the other elements, which led to the idea of merging the "News" (announcements from me) with "Happenings" (announcements from player activity), and everything else flowed pretty naturally from there. If someone were designing a website from scratch, it's doubtful they would ever have hit on the old design, which filled 80% of the front page with updates from the designer (updated a few times a day at most) and squeezing everyone else's activity into a narrow sidebar, but these sort of things happen with incremental design. Ho-hum.

The other is ticket voting, which is such a blindingly obvious innovation in hindsight that I feel a bit stupid for not having done it before. But it only really makes sense in a context in which enough people even see the tickets to get a representative vote going, and in which tickets are organised into some larger structure so that people can actually vote on things worth voting on. Both of those are recent developments, so maybe it's not so stupid. But it's clearly been a very popular innovation.

So now, my new ideas can be fed into the ticket system and compete with existing ideas on a level footing, which resolves the first problem. (And in fact, I tend to get more excited about ideas that have had a lot of up-votes, even if I was initially reluctant personally, so motivation is less of an issue anyway.) Bad voter response is a good and equitable reason to reject an idea, which makes it possible to say no; plus it's easier to leave tickets hanging that have had bad or indifferent user response, so that has changed my feeling about the ever-growing list of feature requests. And clearly a lot of people are reading and thinking about the tickets, now rebranded as "discussions", and that addresses the problem of player involvement.

There are some new challenges engendered by this new system; how to deal with popular tickets that are technically infeasible, for example. But it's a big step forward and I'm pretty happy with it so far. Thanks to all of you who continue to be part of this little democratic experiment!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Some thoughts on the ticket system

I launched the apterous ticket system nearly six months ago to rapturous silence. For a few days after that the only tickets were created by me, either as formalised "notes to self" or copied over from the old Bug Report and Feature Request threads on the forum. But then things started to snowball; the number of tickets has now passed 500 and continues to accelerate. By this simplistic metric the system is a great success! So I thought now would be a good time to reflect a little on its relative merits.

Perhaps some readers were not even aware of the old "system" that apterous users used to communicate with me. Users could log on to a separate forum (after creating a separate account with a new username and password, and waiting days or weeks for it to be approved) and post a comment in one of two free-form discussion threads, according to whether it was a bug or a feature request. I would then try to remember to act on these ideas, if I thought they were good, and sometimes other people would chip in and discuss. People could also email me or send me private messages in various media. In fact it was this total decentralisation of ideas that prompted me to create the ticket system in the first place; I just couldn't keep track of everything I wanted to do.

Clearly the old system wasn't very good. Bugs would often get lost in the mists of time, and good feature ideas would get forgotten if they weren't requested at an opportune moment. The new system keeps ideas hanging around until they can be resolved one way or another. In fact the improvements of the new system over the old are so various and so obvious that there's really no point discussing them here. Instead, in the spirit of self-critique, I want to talk about some of its limitations.

First, the ticket system has significantly changed the way I work on apterous. Previously I would look out for reports of particularly egregious bugs and address them right away ("firefighting"), and then I would work on whatever I felt like. If I couldn't bring a good idea to mind, I would trawl the topics in reverse order until I found something to do. (This would more often be a new feature than a bug, because novelty is always more exciting.) Now, the first thing I do when I have time to work on apterous is look at the list of open bug tickets. If I have an idea to resolve one of them, I'll get on that; having open bugs makes me quite profoundly unsettled, as if I'm appearing in public with food on my clothes. If nothing comes to mind from the bug queue, I'll look at the list of open feature requests. The number of feature requests is now so large that there's always something on there that could be done, and because the tickets hang around until I resolve them, good ideas don't get lost. And there are a lot of good ideas. So far so good. The problem is that it's now much harder for me to break out of that cycle and do something completely different. I might have an exciting idea for a new feature (like aptathlon!) but I could easily delay working on it indefinitely when other ideas are competing for my attention. And the tickets will tend to win because I feel pressure to deliver on the things that users have actually bothered to ask for, and on top of that it's very gratifying to clear tickets. The upshot of this is that there will probably be fewer of the "completely new" things than there have been in the past. Tickets have generally been better at prompting incremental improvements to game and interface elements; in other words, stuff that is more important to the users than to me as the designer! And overall that's clearly a good thing. But striking the balance between my ideas and users' ideas is hard when there are always shiny tickets just waiting to be resolved...

Another problem with tickets is one of social dynamic. With the forum topics, I could quietly ignore ideas that I didn't consider to be good enough or worth the amount of effort they would take, and in the absence of a definitive index of their own requests, most of the requesters would soon forget about the suggestion anyway. Now, I have to make an explicit dictatorial ruling on every request, and (contrary to what you might think!) I really do not enjoy doing that, especially when I have to say No. There just isn't a nice way to tell someone that you won't be doing what they asked, especially in the rigid medium of text. Of course I could write a long, personalised explanation of why I'm turning the idea down on every ticket, but then I would spend all my time navigating tickets (especially now they arrive at a rate of several a day), plus no doubt get embroiled in a back-and-forth discussion about the merits of the ticket. So I have to be somewhat perfunctory in my responses. Furthermore, because I find it genuinely quite unpleasant to say No to things, I've occasionally found myself accepting ideas that aren't that great, or entertaining possibilities beyond the point where they had any real chance of getting accepted. The ticket system, despite its formalisation, is actually a lot more personal to me than the flowing discussion of the forum. And problematically, I do like to be nice.

My final reservation is that few tickets are now read by anyone except me. The kicking around of new ideas, which was commonplace on the Feature Request thread, is essentially defunct. This is especially unfortunate for larger-scale conceptions like new variants, which often need to pass through a few people's imaginations before solidifying into something really neat and appealing. With certain tickets I have deliberately sought out expert opinion from subsets of the player base, but (to borrow an observation from The Wisdom of Crowds), a small pool of experts is no substitute for mass consultation. In theory the tickets should be open to a wider audience (since anyone with an apterous account can easily read and comment) but in reality it's too sprawling and abstract to be of interest to anyone but the hardcore. And even if I found some way to draw people into the system (e.g. links to interesting tickets in News), it's still fundamentally undemocratic since only I have the power to decide which tickets look promising. (Also, in the forum system, other people would often shoot down bad ideas or clear up misconceptions for me. Now I have to resolve everything myself!)

All things considered the ticket system is undoubtedly A Good Thing. What makes me happiest is that the game does not look unrecognisable from what it was six months ago; it looks basically the same, but with a new lick of polish. So the system is clearly working. But I would be very open to ideas for addressing the particular problems outlined above, and also hearing general feedback on how the ticket system has altered people's perceptions of the site. I hope it was something like what I intended.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Aptathlon I debrief

For the first proper post on this blog I thought I'd talk a bit about the latest Aptathlon: what my intentions were, how it panned out, and what I've learnt for the next one. Comments are particularly welcome as I try to figure out what parts of this people actually want to read about.

A quick recap of what Aptathlon is for those that missed it. There are eight "events", each of which is a given game format, like a Numbers Attack or Bullet Hebrew Speedgoat (okay, I didn't really use that one). Each player can play a single game against a patzer opponent in one event of their choice. Then we take the highest individual score in each event, add them together, and that's the team score, with the intention obviously being to get the highest team score possible. The event runs over the course of a few days and players can see the scores that have already been posted when they decide which event to enter. And that's pretty much it.

So why did I bother to create this new game mode? The idea came from my general worry that apterous caters well to the very top end of players, who can compete for rankings on literally hundreds of different leader boards. This is great and I think rewarding people for being good at stuff is important and part of what keeps players coming back. However, there's no escaping the fact that most leader boards are dominated by a small number of players who are extremely good at the game, have huge word knowledge, superhuman arithmetic skills, and are often comfortable even playing in different languages --- and that's intimidating for new players, who can't ever see themselves being that good (perhaps rightly!). At some point I'll write a post about the various ways that I've tried to address this problem, but Aptathlon is one facet. By forcing players to restrict the application of their skills to a single event, it greatly increases the pool of people who can win an event and therefore contribute to the team score. Also, because it's a team effort, I hoped that players would feel less disappointed if someone else surpassed their score, since it's still all for the good of the team; in other words, it's less directly competitive than something like the Duel. And to stress the point: I don't think there's anything wrong with competitive modes, I just think there's space for something different as well.

And how did it go? Well, let's take a look at the final results. Unsurprisingly, the 15 Rounder event was won by a highly ranked player, the current #2 in Pro Ranks in fact. More encouragingly, other events were won by players ranked #10 and #17, and the remaining five events were won by players outside the top 25. However, before we congratulate ourselves too much, we should note that four of those were still in the top 100 and the only remaining player, who won the Spanish 15 event, currently holds all of the major Spanish-language records. So there were no huge surprises. But still, the top 100 plus language specialists is a much wider pool than can realistically be monthly champion in the Duel (just five people in the last two years). So that's some kind of progress.

Now let's look at what didn't go as well as I wanted, and what I plan to do about it for Aptathlon II.

First up, a certain number of people seemed confused by the designation of Aptathlon as a "team game". A few got the idea that it's a team game in the sense of requiring group coordination to achieve a shared goal, i.e. deploying people's skills efficiently across the different events to maximise the team score. However, other people assumed that "team" meant they would be playing against some other team, which I hadn't anticipated. When you start a new job and they say "let's meet the team", you don't normally think "oh, I wonder who they're playing against"! But nevertheless I should've found some way to manage that expectation, because those people were then disappointed with what it wasn't rather than what it was, and that's frustrating for everyone involved. On this front I think there's nothing to be done; people will hopefully get the idea for the next one, and now a benchmark has been set (1177 points), people will hopefully play as a team to beat that score, which was my intention at the beginning.

One thing that disappointed me was that six of the final eight high scores were set on the first day, which meant that the gradual improvement of the team score didn't pan out as I wanted. In particular, one of the formats got maxed within a few hours of the Aptathlon starting, which effectively reduced the event roster to seven for everyone else. And in most of the other events people posted pretty good scores very quickly, which probably dissuaded other people from entering. To compound the problem, I didn't make it clear enough that the scoring was Stepdown, so I imagine some players were discouraged at a glance by seeing things like a Bullet 15 score of 130! So that interface aspect will definitely be remedied next time around. In future I will also have to be smarter about choosing formats that are a little more difficult so that the scores can steadily improve over the course of the event, which is ultimately more exciting and satisfying for everyone. I have some ideas for that but I think they'll work better as a surprise, so I'm staying zip for now.

I was also disappointed with how few people entered: only 62 over the five days, which is fewer than have entered the Daily Duel on almost any day this year. Part of that might be the discouraging factors I just discussed. Also I didn't do a good enough job of publicising it; a single line in News announcing the start of the event, and then a link on the front page to the ongoing status of the event, which was probably not prominent enough. The Duel, by contrast, virtually publicises itself because you get an explicit challenge from the Duellist whenever you log in. So I'll try to bring something like that into the interface for the next one. Also I think some sort of explicit reward for participation might help, so next time there will be an item just for entering (a la the Duel Jewel) and perhaps an additional item for the eight people who post high scores (or maybe that's against the spirit of the thing. Not sure yet.)

Finally, there was one thing which went better than expected! Before the event I had worried that the top players would hang back until the final day and then "poach" the events with the weakest scores. As it turns out, curiosity evidently got the better of them and most of the top players played on the first day; only the 15 Rounder got overtaken late in the event, and was actually a very good score already, so that's all fair and lovely. Perhaps that won't work as smoothly next time, now the novelty has worn off, but we shall see. There's also an incentive for players to play earlier because ties are broken on an earliest-first basis, so too much hanging back is risky for people who are particularly focused on individual attainment.

So there we have it. I've focused a lot here on the things that didn't work out well, but overall I was actually quite happy with it; there were no major technical disasters, the people who did enter mostly had fun with it and got the idea, and a fair amount of the feedback was positive. And unlike Top Dog (which has never really been what I wanted; more on that another time), it seems like most of the problems are soluble within the current framework. So thanks to everyone who played and for all the comments so far. Here's to Aptathlon II!

Monday, 19 March 2012


Welcome to the apterous development blog. The intention of this blog is to give me, your friend and host Charlie Reams, a look "behind the scenes" of apterous. I don't mean the technical stuff so much, which is probably too niche, but rather the higher level ideas of design and decision making that hopefully will be of general interest. Also the blog format should allow me to discuss things at greater length than the one-line News items on the apterous front page will allow, so I'll link here when that's worth doing. I'm not promising any particular schedule for updates, but I'll be aiming for quality over quantity.

So, welcome! Stay a while. Subscribe. Or whatever it is people do with blogs, I don't really know.