Software Magic

MasterType and Typing Tutor

Back when Applet II was fresh, I was working for a company named Lightning Software, a small single-product company in Palo Alto.  Lightning's lone product was MasterType, a typing instruction game.  I initially didn't think much of MasterType because it was a simple graphics game showing a screen with up to four monsters moving from corner to center of screen where you typed the name of monsters to destroy them (monsters wore name tag of sort).  It sold incredibly well, but I didn't fully understand its magic until a competing product appeared: Typing Tutor.

Typing Tutor was a big thing back then because it was supposed to be the opening bell of large book publishers entering the software publishing market.  The publisher, Simon & Schuster, threw obscene amount of money after Typing Tutor and played the media Hollywood-style.  Most software people feared the worst since large book publishers had lots of money, huge distribution network (aka bookstores), and marketing savvy.  In comparison, software companies had to fight for shelf space (most computer stores were tiny and had very little shelf space) and played the media like talented dorks.  But, when I played with Typing Tutor, I realized there was nothing to worry about: it didn't have the Magic.  The difference was that, while one used Typing Tutor, one played MasterType.  Typing Tutor had loads of features, but all boring.  MasterType had short list of features, but fun to play.  When using MasterType, I entered a trance similar to the way Tetris grabs your brain and make you dance to its rhythm.  That is Magic.  My thanks to Bruce Zweig, author of MasterType, for that magic.


During similar timeframe, there was a game called Adventure for the old Atari console.  Its a graphical adventure game where primary object was to move from room to room killing monsters and gathering treasures.  You got to see only one room at a time so something had to be done to help players keep track of dungeon layout.  Its creator (Robinette I think, sorry) solved the problem by reducing the time between when you exited a room to when you appeared in the next room.  Net result was almost like moving between rooms in real life and keeping track of location became effortless.  Magic!

A similar problem was solved differently in another classic game called Wizardry on Apple II.  In Wizardry, the viewport was kept small for speed and movement was intentionally limited to one square per move and 90 degree turns.  Movement was controlled using four keys, two for step forward and backward, two for turn left and turn right.  Whatever the magic was, people were able to immerse themselves through a small vector graphics view and four keys.  I remember rapidly moving across the large multi-level dungeons although reality was me typing 200 words per minute using only four keys.  Magic!

Magic in Blogging

There is similar magic in blogging.  No wonder people like Dave Winer, Dan Bricklin, and Ray Ozzie are fascinated by blogging.  Technically, a weblog system is just a simple content management system which a decent programmer can put together over a weekend.  In fact, I was thinking about writing one myself.  But I chose to use Radio because the magic of blogging is not in the technology, but in the act blogging and in the blogging community.  Radio community is one of the best I have seen and every Radio user becomes its member as soon as they install Radio.  Blogger has a great community as well, but Dave is a friend so Radio was a natural choice.

While convenience is a necessary ingredient of blogging, the magic happens when a blogger start to post and receives feedback.  Slowly you start to weave blogging into your daily routine until blogging becomes part of who you are (I subscribe to you are what you do meme).  Similarly, the blogging community slowly weave you into it until you are an essential part of it.

Greater Magic

I feel that there is greater magic hiding behind blogging.  I think I have seen glimpses of it and have some fragments I am trying to put together into a whole that could become as great as the Web has become.  Business Browser is one of those fragments.  I am keeping my fingers crossed as well as taking longer showers for that elusive clarity.  <g>