The Object Network

A fictional review of an Object Network application called "LinkCraft".


My Experiences With LinkCraft, by Charlie

I'm not interested in games that involve killing and monsters and all that macho crap, and puzzles bore me - they seem so lonely and detached from reality. I prefer to explore or create worlds and interact with others - to create and to co-create.

My favourite games for creation and co-creation are thus of the "sandbox", "simulator" and "3D virtual world" genres. Games like Minecraft, Angry Birds, Sim City, Second Life, Solar and Godus. I liked exploring Riven, but cheated on the puzzles. I liked Dear Esther, but it was rather lonely.

Hence, I was obviously curious to try out LinkCraft, which sounded like Minecraft, except with links. Here is my experience report, or rather, mine plus my flatmate, Sam, who I roped into the experiment.

Our conclusion - if you can't wait to read that - was that these links are a very powerful concept, potentially "paradigm shifting". This is truly a whole new way of building games and online shared experiences.

First Run

When you fire up LinkCraft, there's no intro screen, no options, no login - you're dropped right into a bright and airy 3D view - a faint grid on the ground is all you see, plus a few static controls around the edges. Obviously some kind of blank canvas for your 3D creations.

After walking around this empty world for a bit, I thought: let's create something! One of the controls looked promising: it shows some blocks that look like they're made of stone, glass, etc. So I chose a nice smooth stone and tapped out - Minecraft style - a small house with glass windows.

I then noticed that a tab had appeared with the label "name". Touching it revealed a text field, where I typed "Charlie's House", obviously.

While doing this, Sam had also started up LinkCraft and made herself a glass pyramid. I pointed out the name tab, and she called it .. "Glass Pyramid".

Another tab had appeared: "My Stuff". Touching that took me to a screen showing a mini house next to the name "Charlie's House". There was a plus symbol under that. Touching it put me into a new empty canvas.

All this Minecraft similarity left me pining for a sense of place, so another control caught my eye; it said "Terrains". I chose a familiar-looking grass one and was offered a quite small patch of grass, but there were new controls: "size" and "hills". Soon I had a much larger land to walk around, with gentle hills but nothing else. I named it "Terra Charlie". Not exactly the infinite plains of Minecraft, I thought, but I was later to discover just how infinite all this could get.

Back to "My Stuff", and there were the expected two items, my house and the terrain.

Meanwhile, Sam had created a sandy land with dunes, which she'd called "Samdy".

Network

I noticed a control labelled "Other's Stuff". Touching it brought up a similar list of two items - Sam's stuff! LinkCraft must be scanning the LAN for peers. We could see each other's creations. My first thought, after I had admired the glass pyramid and then wandered "Samdy" for a minute, was to try and smash some glass, but I couldn't. Fair enough.

I could, though, see Sam - or her rather plain-looking character - but she couldn't see me. I could see the changes as she smashed and replaced some glass. So I was just a viewer, not a creator, or at least not yet.

Suddenly Sam went "Ooh!", and showed me her screen. There I was - she'd found the trick that allowed me in, which involved choosing my name from a list. LinkCraft must be using my login creds to find out my name.

Now I was able to smash some glass; but I replaced it after seeing her pained reaction. We soon discovered the chat function and via that channel I suffered various threats not to cause further damage!

Links

Going back up to my list of stuff, I noticed a symbol next to each item - that I'd seen before on the LinkCraft logo; something like this: "o-o". I tapped the one next to my house and the little picture of my house appeared in the bottom bar.

Guessing that I'd sort-of picked up my house, I entered Terra Charlie. Sure enough, when I did the usual placing-block tap, the entire house appeared right there on the land!

So that's the Link Thing, I thought: that symbol means a link to something and now there's a link from Terra Charlie to Charlie's House. Obviously I tried tapping again, next to it. An identical neighbour appeared. I made an entire street of Charlie's Houses.

A thought occurred to me - are these all new houses, or are they still my original house? I hacked out a stone block from one of my houses. The same block disappeared from every single house in Charlie Street. They weren't just copies, they were literally the same house. Weird. Not what you'd want or expect, perhaps.

Local Changes

Or maybe it would be: if you created such a street and made a mistake, you wouldn't want to have to go around fixing every single one. But on the other hand, you would want each house to be made unique when they were being used. You'd need to be able to switch from "estate building mode" to "estate occupancy mode", by making them unique copies instead of these links to the same item.

After some digging around I found the control that did that - it was called "local changes". Setting this feature on a linked item means that it follows the original as before, but as soon as you add or remove a block to that instance those changes are kept and override the original. This creates a new item linking to the original, which is added to your stuff list. Changes to the original linked item still get seen as before if new changes haven't overlayed them.

Cross-links

Sam flashed her screen at me: there in Samdy were two glass pyramids and, next to them - my house! She'd picked up the link to my house and dropped one in her own terrain. She couldn't edit it but could do those "local changes" to customise it, and had already added some new material for the roof.

I went over to Samdy and put down another pyramid. Smashing a glass pane caused all three to follow. Just checking. I quickly fixed the glass.

So, I thought, if you can do that, if you can put in a link from terrain on your machine to items on another, maybe you can...

I grabbed a link to Samdy from the list and ran back to Terra Charlie. I walked to the edge of my patch of land and placed the link to Samdy. Bingo! Samdy stretched out before me - I'd joined up our lands into one! I ran back in to Samdy to tell Sam over chat.

But Terra Charlie had disappeared behind me. Hmm.. Ah! You need links in both directions! I hit the back button and found myself back in Terra Charlie. There was another "o-o" symbol at the edge of the screen, which I guessed was a link to the currently-viewed item or place, and sure enough, touching that picked up the link. I went back in to Samdy and put in the reverse link, bringing Terra Charlie into view, then ran across the border a few times to make sure all was well. Sam came to explore and did the same.

We'd co-created a land across two machines that both of us could explore and build in. We could work not just in single blocks, but in entire structures grouped together. Everything is joined up with links.

Links to and from people

Except of course that every time Sam crossed into Terra Charlie, she disappeared, and of course, that correlated with her not being able to change anything there. I added her to the allowed list and fixed that.

We later found out that being visible and active in a place such as a terrain or building means that it links to you - or your person object - as just another item in its world, with coordinates. It can give you any position it likes of course, but most will follow the polite rule of placing you exactly where your person object says you are as you move around exploring.

The base rule is that you can only update a place if you're linked from it and visible to others. Similarly items generally don't allow you to interact with them unless you're linked in to the same world they're ultimately in, perhaps via more than one link.

Of course, not only does the place you're officially "in" link to you or your person object, but your person object links to the place it considers itself to be "in", regardless of whether that is mutual.

Online and P2P Servers

This all worked peer-to-peer, linking across the WiFi, but if you can do that then we reasoned that you should be able to link up AR glasses and home hubs across the internet, as well as mixing in more traditional shared online servers.

So, some research later, our suspicions were confirmed - links are basically URLs like those you find on the Web. We picked up a list of links to several interesting online and P2P-served items and terrains and started to explore the LinkCraft world outside.

The first one we wanted to try was a link to a terrain with a huge castle in the middle of it. We jumped the link, and ran into the drawbridge. Inside was a small crowd of people looking around. They were obviously specially invited if they were visible. We weren't visible to them. But we could see each other - presumably giving each other permission to build in our own domains did that.

An hour of exploring later, we came back home and put in a link to this amazing land from our joint world. Obviously, you had to use the back button to get home again if you went there, as they wouldn't want to put in a reverse link to our humble little land.

The castle was made up of very many smaller items. We grabbed some links to interesting structures for use in our own world: a tower, the drawbridge, etc.

Another set of links we found was to a large number of new blocks that we could use to build with. Just linking to them allows you to start using them, unlike in Minecraft where you have to install a mod and restart the game with a new world.

In fact, it turned out that each block was itself made up of more links: links to their texture image or images plus links to their "shaders" - the programs that made them look a certain way, with various effects.

So you can build your own blocks with your own texture images and link to other people's online published shaders, or shaders simply borrowed from links in other published blocks. We created new blocks with our own photos on them, with a nice shimmering effect.

Publishing Our World

After a few days of playing around, our co-created world on the two devices had become quite extensive, with a small village around a castle. We opened up to view-only P2P and published a link so that our friends and families could explore our creation.

A limitation of being hosted on our wearable devices is that the world freezes for viewers when we walk out the house, taking our chunk of it with us! It then comes back up to date when we return. If Sam leaves, her half of my world freezes but any updates she's made on the train appear on her return.

We could have solved this by building at least some of our world on the flat's hub. It's easy enough to move everything over, but instead we paid a small fee for a LinkCraft server to make our world more persistent and able to be updated from anywhere we are. It's twice as laggy, because all changes have to go two trips (peer to server to peer) instead of one direct trip (peer to peer), but it's more robust.

Conclusions

Unlike Minecraft, which has a world that is both infinite and closed - inside a single server - LinkCraft can let you explore an infinite, open world made of worlds linked up endlessly around the planet. We were jumping servers without realising - you could be exploring a landscape made up of regions and objects generated in multiple countries owned by multiple people, where this object is created in Japan, that one in Canada, linking to an image from Italy.

LinkCraft is like a mix of 3D browser, P2P client and world server all in one. Everyone and every thing is on a link and can link to other things and people. You can build environments on your own device and then publish them to the world, then link up to the world and it can link back.

Unlike Minecraft and other games, you don't depend on YouTube to let people see your creations: you can just invite them in with a link as spectators to the live world, either peer-to-peer or via a server. VIPs get to actually be visible and interact.

We believe that LinkCraft represents a truly significant shift in the way online virtual worlds and games in general are built. The use of links indicates a shift in thinking that mirrors that of the Web when it first came out, and the LinkCraft approach could easily spread just as fast and become as universal. The critical difference is that it's not owned by just one party - anyone can join in; the LinkCraft protocols and object formats are all open standards. LinkCraft could be the first global gaming - and "Metaverse" - platform.

Duncan Cragg, 2016

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