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Monday, November 25, 2013

My favourite subreddits

Eye Protection by Jason A. Samfield from flickr (CC-NC-SA)
Apparently I'm subscribed to over 200 of them. Most of them are probably barely alive, and in any case nothing special.

But here's my list of subreddits that are particularly awesome, which you should totally check out. Very frequently the biggest subreddit for a subject is a pretty shitty place, and smaller higher-quality ones emerge.

Magic: The Gathering

The biggest one is /r/magicTCG and it sure has issues. I've never seen this kind of downvoting to show disagreement on any non-explicitly-circlejerk reddits as I've seen on magicTCG. It's not horrible, but you'll be better off subscribing to smaller subs first.

Meanwhile, smaller reddits are often awesome. Even /r/spikes (for people who are into cutthroat competitive Magic) is a surprisingly polite and quality place somehow.

/r/custommagic is my favourite place on reddit. You can post Magic cards you designed there, and it has two ongoing design competitions with winner of a round judging the following round.

Once upon a time I even started /r/mtgfanservice for various Magic-related cosplay (borderline NSFW). It didn't go very far, but enjoy what got posted.

And if you like Magic but don't have as much time to play in on paper as you'd like, definitely check out /r/Cockatrice.

Video gaming

/r/gaming is a worthless cesspool so let's not even go there. Seriously, don't click. I hate that place more than I hate SRS. The place you're looking for is /r/Games with unsubtle subtitle of "Quality Gaming Content", and it's more or less that.

If you like making games, or in-depth analysis of them, there are also smaller places like text-only /r/truegaming, a pair of /r/gamedev and /r/gamedesign with obvious subject matter.

Whichever games or game genres you like, there's probably one or more subs for them. Some of them are good, some not so much... Just check them out. Often they have some not very obvious names.

And since the only true gaming is PC gaming, there are two subs - /r/pcgaming which is totally serious, and /r/pcmasterrace which can't decide if it's a real sub or a circlejerk. And yet somehow even that circlejerk is better than /r/gaming.


You've probably figured out by now that /r/funny is everything except what it claims to be. (seeing a pattern here? big subreddits sucks with few exceptions). So here are some truly funny subs to check instead:
  • /r/outside - life is one big MMORPG with longest tutorial section ever and no respawn.
  • /r/nottheonion - news you'd expect to be from The Onion, but sadly they're real.
  • /r/Jokes - text-only jokes, 80% of them are older than Roman Empire, but some good stuff comes up from time to time
  • if you like dark humor, /r/toosoon, /r/ImGoingToHellForThis, and /r/MeanJokes sometimes contain funny original stuff. If you don't - well, I warned you.
  • /r/CivPolitics (and equivalent for CK, EUIV, and who knows what else) - comments on current events as if they were taking place in Civilization 5.
  • /r/nocontext - things taken very much out of context. It used to be mostly CK2 players discussing how to murder their wives and marry their children to each other. More variety recently.


Default reddits tend to be very shallow, but if you dig a bit deeper you can find some very high quality content.
  • /r/explainlikeimfive - the place to ask questions and get sensible answers, without fascist modding style of /r/ask* network. (to be fair /r/ask* network is pretty reasonable considering how popular they are)
  • /r/FanTheories - original analysis of fictional universes, some of it is totally crazy, some of it is quite insightful, most of it is interesting to read 
  • /r/changemyview - a place where OP challenges the redditors to change their view, that's the only place on the entire Internet I've ever seen where you'll find consistently civilized discussion on usually the most divisive subjects ever. CMV success rate is not terribly high, but far higher than expected 0%.
  • /r/DepthHub - cherrypicked most insightful comments from entire reddit. I've seen quite a few nutjobs being upvoted there, but that's always the risk with such places.
  • /r/subredditoftheday - discover a new subreddit every day, you might like some of them.
  • /r/TheoryOfReddit - going meta on reddit

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Correction for excessive beeminding

So very lazy by mada299 from flickr (CC-NC)
It seems I overcommitted myself somewhat, with estimated time spent beeminding being about 26h45m a week. I cut things to get it to estimated 20h or so. These numbers are all quite vague of course.

So what got cut (ordered from hardest to easiest task):
  • Pomodoros doing important things. This really isn't going anywhere near as well as I hoped for some reason. 7/week down to 4/week for the time being. At some point I either need to get good at it, or scrap it completely. Lowering the pressure might leave some space for experimenting with this.
  • Blogging. 3 posts/week down to 2.5 posts/week. It's still far more activity that this blog has usually seen.
  • Open Source contributions. 10 commits/week down to 7 commits/week. I have a pretty major project going of migrating things out of that probably won't see many commits but it will sure take a lot of time.
  • Play Magic: the Gathering. 10 games/week down to 6 games/week. I'll probably ramp it back up when formats get refreshed - like after Born of Gods release on February 1st. Standard is pretty decent these days, but I don't have as much time as I'd like and other things take priority.
  • Exercise. Staying unchanged at 3 nominal "hours" a week, which are closer to 3h30 actually. For health reasons that really shouldn't be cut, especially since I'm keeping up with this really well.
  • Try new fun things. Staying unchanged at 2/week. This goal has very high time variety, since sometimes I decide it's not fun after a few minutes, and sometimes it takes days to enjoy something fully, so it's hard to say how much time this is really taking.
  • Online Education. 3 lessons/week down to 2 lessons/week. Mostly due to my Internet connection becoming really shitty lately.
  • Books. Staying unchanged at 3/month. To be honest it's not terribly valuable, but I'm mostly reading in otherwise dead time like trains and so on, so it wouldn't really save much time to cut it. 
Changes of course go live 7 days from now. I'm sure I'll be readjusting everything for holiday season as well.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

If assassination markets were real

Night Stalker by New Talent Modelling from flickr (CC-NC-ND)

I'm rich! Extrapolating current trends, my "investment" of 1 whole bitcoin I did for the lulz long time ago is on its way to be worth big $$$millions by the end of next year.

Anyway, let's forget the boring stuff like drugs and fake passports and focus on the most fascinating subject in the bitcoin land - markets for anonymous assassinations.

IRL assassins for hire

The world doesn't exactly lack people willing to break any laws for money - as all my previous bicycles can attest. And it sure doesn't lack people willing to murder other human being in cold blood for money - people sign up to various militaries in droves. And there sure is a ton of people hating someone else to the point of wanting to see them dead - or having a business or political interest in someone else dying.

So you'd think all the ingredients were there, so why the hell do we have so few IRL killers for hire? There's a bunch of reasons on both supply and demand side. The hit is of course difficult to people who want to arrange and execute it. That doesn't make it completely impossible, but it at least would make it expensive:
  • For a potential customer, finding assassin and paying them is both difficult and risky
  • For a potential assassin, finding customers and accepting payment is both difficult and risky
  • For a potential assassin, the murder itself is difficult and risky
  • It's difficult to hide the fact that the murder happened (and make it look like an accident) - and since the customer is probably connected to the victim, the customer is likely to be suspected. If that happens, links from the customer to the hired assassin (who is otherwise not connected to the victim) can be followed
And for whatever market rate for assassination would be:
  • Most people are too poor to afford assassination - and most potential targets (like cheating spouses, nasty bosses or whatnot) are hated only by one or a handful of person so there's no potential for pooling money to hire an assassin together
  • Even if one person was widely behated (yes, that's a word), any large scale coordination to gather money from large number of people is absolutely guaranteed to not remain secret
  • There are pretty strong taboos against killing others outside of some special contexts (like murder-happy militaries)
  • Even if people might be willing to murder another person in the heat of the moment, it doesn't translate to long and difficult process of arranging an assassination
  • Even if you got the money, potential customers have no way to verify potential assassins, so hiring an assassin means you're likely just getting scammed
And finally:
  • Whatever the price, and whatever the difficulty, the market is too small to be viable, so even if every now and then you have a filthy rich and completely amoral person wanting to murder another no matter what it takes - there are too few such people to make it viable as a career for potential assassins.
I think that about sums it. (or did I miss anything major?) I'm listing these points since surprisingly many of them are likely to weaken real soon.

Assassination markets already exist

Hired assassinations are by no means impossible. If you look at murder rate by country you don't see any neat normal curve - there's ton of countries with over 20 murders per 100k per year, and a ton with less than 2, and within a medium murder rate countries like USA there exist both very high risk and very low risk areas, rather than any kind of equilibrium.

It would be tempting to explain this away by country's wealth, and that definitely seems to correlate, but there are high murder rate relatively well off countries like Russia and Mexico, and very poor low murder rate countries like China.

It can't be definitely concluded from such summaries that murder rates have two equilibria, but it sure looks like it.

Now it's much harder to find internationally meaningful comparative statistics for lesser crimes, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't vary anywhere near as much (UK in spite of very low murder rate sure doesn't lack bike thieves), so multiple equilibria of murder rates are strongly suggestive that it's not just due to higher or lower crime levels (something which would have more of a log-normal distribution), but due to functioning or not functioning of assassination markets in different countries.

Judging from all the news stories from high-murder-rate and relatively well off places like Mexico and Russia - they indeed have huge number of assassinations, and victim profiles are very different. In low murder rate countries most fatal victims are either killed accidentally (like during a mugging), or by someone they knew personally. In high murder rate countries hired hits on journalists, politicians and other high profile targets are very common. It's not a coincidence that the only major political assassination in UK of the last few decades was ordered by Russia.
"dandelion" - "Löwenzahn" by marfis75 from flickr (CC-SA)

Hidden assassins for hire

There are two kinds of assassinations markets you can find on the hidden web. Easier to understand of the two are hidden services of self-proclaimed assassins for some amount of bitcoins.

Technology changed assassination equilibrium in many ways:
  • Bitcoins are very difficult to trace. They're not impossible, since high amounts of money are still traceable when they enter or exit bitcoin network, so if someone got $50k out of the bank a few weeks before their spouse got murdered, and that money all vanished without a trace, it's still pretty damn suspicious, and their computer might have a lot of traces of it all. By comparison someone getting $500 worth of bitcoins to buy some weed would not leave significant trace behind. For assassin the risk is even lower.
  • TOR drastically reduces the risk for both customer and assassin that the other is working for law enforcement, or otherwise risky. This is not absolutely risk-free, but it's very close to it.
  • TOR drastically reduces search cost. It's still difficult to tell apart a genuine assassin from a scammer, but it's really easy to find someone claiming to be an assassin, and for potential assassins it's very easy to find customers.
  • Since there was no direct customer-assassin contact, the customer getting caught (via victim) poses very little risk to the assassin.
Now I'm pretty sure every single such hidden site I've seen was a scam. However easy technology makes it to setup assassination sites, it makes it even easier to setup scam sites, and there were some pretty big give-aways that they were fake, like insistence on no escrow, no track record, claims to global range etc.

And for that matter probably the easiest way to disrupt assassination markets of this kind before they emerge would be to just setup so many scam sites that it would be impossible for anyone to tell them apart from the real thing.

But it's quite likely one day someone will setup a real site. Possibly a murder for hire site like the former Silk Road - with price of admission to get a "seller" account being a high profile murder to prove authenticity, enforced escrow, and no early finalization - the only way to get funds released being official confirmation of death.

I really doubt anything like that could emerge out of nowhere in any civilized country - if you believe my model of two equilibria the market for assassinations right now is nearly nonexistent, so nobody would bother going through major effort of setting one up. But what if let's say Russian mafia set one up, and then decided to also sell hits abroad, which would then increase murder rates in other countries until they jumped to high equilibrium? Once it's in high equilibrium, local markets in other countries could become self-sustaining, even if Russian stopped supporting them.

I'm pretty sure they have necessary technical sophistication, and necessary market over there, and with their government and law enforcement basically being just a different group of thugs, nobody would bother stopping that.

Crowdsourced assassination markets

The kind of individual assassination markets solve a lot of difficulties with assassinations, but they still wouldn't make it available to the masses. Basically anyone sufficiently hated by someone filthy rich would be a potential target - like journalists, (less corrupt) politicians, competing businessmen and so on. Just like in Mexico and Russia already, except a higher tech version of it.

But there's another much more radical idea - crowdsourced markets. Now a full disclaimer - I feel that unlike the Murder Silk Road mentioned before, this kind of market is pretty much impossible in practice - but it sure makes for a good story.

So the idea is that people would just pay money into the service to bet on someone they hate dying. Then once enough money was gathered someone would bet on a particular date of that person's death, then "helped" that happen and collected the cash.

In theory a group of relatively less wealthy people might be able to use this to coordinate a hit on someone rich and powerful, drastically affecting the balance of power in the world. And since the number of people willing to pay something to see someone dead is orders of magnitude greater than number of people having enough money to fund it themselves - that would ensure a bloodbath.

Of course even if that ever happened, the most likely outcome would be that the powerful people would use this to order hits on journalists and competitors (see Russia, Mexico and so on), and after a few high profile deaths they'd just invest a lot more money into security until it drove the assassination cost out of crowdsourcing range.

If assassination markets were real, how would we know?

Technology moves on, so it's entirely possible that one day real assassination markets will emerge, not just scammy sites ones we see today. So without insider knowledge, how would we know it happened?

First, it depends on how hard would it be to hide a murder. You sure want to make it look like accident, but then judging from places like Mexico it's either too hard, or they just don't seem to bother.

So the first obvious sign of assassination markets running would be drastic increase in murder rates in the currently low-murder countries. No shit, huh?

But let's assume that assassins all try to make it look like a suicide or accident. Many would sure botch it, so we'd see a huge increase in staged suicides and accidents that turn out to be murders on close investigation, or be extremely suspicious of it - a category that's really tiny right now, but which would hugely increase if assassins started running around, even if most were good at it. By the time police figured that out they'd have long cashed their bitcoins (since the hit is confirmed, there's limits to how long an escrow can be practically accepted).

Either way, profile of the victims would shift towards Mexican or Russian levels. Life expectancy of investigatory journalist and dissidents would drastically fall, due to all the "accidents" such professions now carry. Even bloggers would be at risk!

In theory there's a change that such market would emerge but would stay small indefinitely - but if you buy my multiple equilibria theory that's not a stable situation, and established supply of reliable assassins for hire would find their demand somehow.

And if crowdsourced market somehow came into being... First of all, they can't function without widespread public knowledge of it, even in theory, so we'd surely know. Then, we'd see a bunch of very high profile deaths. Some obvious ones - politicians are hate magnets these days - but it wouldn't be that surprising if a bunch of crazy people thought it hilarious to bet on just about any public figure able to generate sufficient level of negative emotions, like let's say Justin Bieber.

So as long as Justin Bieber lives, we know the world is safe.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Beeminder status update

Mohan doing acrobatics! by Tambako the Jaguar from flickr (CC-ND)

I think I have taken about as much stuff to do as is reasonable. By back of an envelope calculations it would take me about 27 hours a week to do all the things I committed myself to, and in practical terms my mean time to derailment is now pretty stable near 25 days or so, rather than going into space.

Here's update by goal. As usual, from hardest to easiest:

Thing I'me really struggling with

Pomodoros of important things (goal - 7 pomodoros / week). That's one goal I've been really struggling with, and it's not really clear why. It's not lack of time - it takes literally 25 minutes a day to stay on course with this one . And it's not lack of clarity on what to do - by per-project list contains 44 things I could be pomodoroing right now.

There's something about shutting off everything else and focusing singlemindedly one one thing that's just hard. Also timers, they're annoying. I'll keep trying, hopefully I'll find some way for this to work.

Things that work about right

Blogging (goal - 3 posts / week). The blog could always be more active, but it's already more active than at any time since 2006-2007 (back when I was at university and had nearly infinite amounts of free time), so that's fine.

Exercise (goal - 3h / week). Time a week I spent exercising feels about right. I want to add more variety, and maybe increase intensity somewhat. Sadly there aren't really that many exercise games out there, I don't have much space for exercise equipment at home, it's too cold right now to do that outdoors, and I don't like gyms much due to their very low ratio of time actually spent exercising to total time spent, including commuting, changing clothes, and such.

Play Magic (goal - 10 games / week). I feel there isn't really that much more to discover in Standard. Meta more or less stabilized, none of the top decks are anything special, and the card pool is too small right now to do much creative brewing. I miss Birthing Pod. Anyway, it's probably time to explore some other formats like post-Jund Modern.

Open Source contributions (goal - 10 git commits / week). I didn't have any serious projects recently other than Skype exporter, but I've added a bunch of missing functionality to my existing utilities, wrote some tools for manipulating Magic decklists, and contributed better decklist importer to Cockatrice.

Online Education (goal - 3 lessons / week). This one has really good reason why it's not going any better. It's BT being steaming pile of shit. Recently I can't get anything better than 2mbit (of 20mbit I'm paying for), and that's literally not enough to even watch standard quality youtube videos without buffering issues. My alternatives here are various BT resellers with no guarantee of being any better, or moving to a different place where I could get something else. Fucking first world, huh? Ironically it would work OK with a 60 minute lecture in a single video, since I could simply let it fully buffer or download, then watch it in one block later, but all MOOCs just break the videos into tiny bits, and that does not buffer well. There are workarounds - not everything I want to learn is video-intense, or I could setup some video downloader. Or I could move to a place where ISPs don't suck. South Korea?

Things that into space

New Fun Things (goal - try 2 new things / week). Unsurprisingly that causes zero problems and I'm far exceeding this very modest goal. I put reviews of some of things I try on my Google+ if you're interested.

Books (goal - read 3 books / month). This also exceeds expectations, but for a different reason. There's just so much dead time during a week, and since I ran out of podcasts (recommendations welcome) I'm just listening to random audiobooks instead. It's also a good thing to do while doing low/medium intensity exercise. Either way - this is mostly happening in a time which would otherwise be wasted.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Why I want Apple to fail

Dear Apple fanboys. Dear Apple haters. Here's what phone for stupid people looks like:

I'll pause for a moment to let you consider the level of stupidity that has people pay $10k for a phone far worse in just about every possible way than a five year old Blackberry.

But I didn't mention that just to make fun of rich idiots. The entire consumer electronics market consists of pretty much three segments:
  • Very expensive and totally shitty things to take advantage of idiots with too much money - like Vertu phones, "audiophile" cables and so on. Everybody with any clue knows to stay away from them.
  • Bulk of the market which competes on price alone, with quality usually ranging from shitty to at best mediocre. You can find high quality or innovative stuff here from now and then, but nothing consistent and the next product in the same line will probably revert to the mean.
  • Apple. They sure have very high margins, but you actually get premium product for it.
The thing is - Apple didn't get to be $400bln+ company by doing anything amazing. For just about every Apple product you could make a long list of things which are wrong with it, their interoperability record is dismal, and it usually gives you a choice of Apple way or no way. Remember - this is the company which insisted on a one-button mouse. They're making that kind of ridiculous money because nobody bothers to compete with them!

Only this year other phone makers (mostly Samsung) even started bothering with the high end of the market. Due to network effects it can only win in total Android victory (the course we're currently on), destruction of high end Android market (more likely via lawsuits than any real innovation), or iPhones becoming Android-compatible - and knowing Apple's attitude towards interoperability that's about as likely as the Pope converting to Buddhism.

Anyway, on phones and tablets Android is finally putting some real pressure on Apple - not just from the lower end which Apple completely abandoned, but also from the high end. And Apple was never serious about desktops. But one huge area where Apple is still completely without any competition is laptops.

Laptop market today looks just like smartphone market looked like five years ago. There's Apple with their overpriced but pretty decent hardware. There's ton of cheap Windows junk. And of course there's overpriced and underdelivered sector of "gaming laptops" and their likes (less extreme than Vertu shitphones, but still not good value for money).

Other than Apple nobody is seriously trying to target the laptop high end market. One big reasons is Windows, which is about as compatible with anything high end as... well, Windows Phone. The high end market is largely tech people, so anybody with any hope of competing with Apple must do something Unix-y as well. It would most likely need to be Linux, possibly with some custom distro, and reasonable Windows (or OSX) compatibility layer to deal with smaller application ecosystem.

Or it could be licensed OSX, but we all know what's the likelihood of that. Or maybe, just maybe, Microsoft could go in more developer-friendly direction and made their OS tolerable, but that seems even less likely to happen than licensed OSX. Or it could follow Apple's steps with Bootcamp and simply dual boot Linux/Windows, or some kind of virtual machine.

Unfortunately right now nobody is even trying. There's some effort into pushing non-Windows non-Apple laptops, but they are definitely on the low end. Google Chromebook Pixel is sort of trying to go there, but it's still years behind, trying to attack Apple from the low-end, not the high-end. Other than that, nobody even tries... So tech people either stick to desktops, or accept overpriced OSX, with all its problems.

Anyway, I really hope Apple fails. I hope they get some serious competition and fall from their undeserved position as the most valuable company in the world to being just one of many manufacturers of quality consumer electronics. Because the alternative is really horrible for consumers.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Great Ruby 2.0 Upgrade

Ragdoll Kitten by jurvetson from flickr (CC-BY)

Here's a quick announcement: I no longer care about Ruby 1.8 and 1.9 compatibility, all my Open Source software (except etwng for the time being, that's targeting JRuby default mode) is just going to assume you're running Ruby 2.0. Most of it will work on 1.9.x as well, and some might even run on 1.8.x, but that's a lucky coincidence, not any conscious effort.

If it inconveniences you greatly, feel free to send patches, I just don't plan to put any effort into this myself. But seriously, you should upgrade (at least to 1.9.x).

Once upon a time Perl 5, Python 2, and Ruby 1.8 all decided to do a major version upgrade. It went very differently for them. To call Perl 6 migration derailed would be an understatement. Python 3 is doing a lot better, but it still struggles, even so many years after 3.0 release most major Python projects still don't support Python 3, or only sort of do. To be honest this surprises me a lot, Perl 6 was obviously doomed from the beginning, but I thought Python people had their act together on this, with converter scripts, compatibility libraries, feature deprecation system, imports from the feature and so on. Apparently all that wasn't enough.

Meanwhile Ruby 2.0 upgrade went amazingly smoothly, with very little amount of backwards compatibility breaking. Pretty much the only nontrivial breakages were removing Pathname#to_str (which breaks Pathname library completely for no good reason since the entire Ruby POSIX interface demands Strings as arguments and doesn't bother to to_s anything) and some Unicode-related brittleness. All other incompatibilies are trivial things that are easy to fix and weren't important in the first place.

And speaking of upgrades, I recently found the first command line option parsing library that I actually liked quite a bit - trollop. I plan to use it pretty extensively, so gem install trollop away!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

All Commander Precons in Cockatrice format

Geisha 771 by Dirigentens from flickr (CC-BY)
Importing decklists into cockatrice takes much more effort than it should right now due to all data formatting silliness like Unicode apostrophes, various ways to spell "Aetherling", utter insanity of how split cards are being named and so on. Even on Wizards' own website's decklists tend to have a lot of issues.

To make this more automatic I wrote txt2cod script that handles most of such issues. It's available on github (requires Ruby 2.0 and trollop gem) together with my other Magic-related scripts.

And while I was at it, I converted all 10 Commander precons into cockatrice format. That's a good starting point if you want to play casual Commander online. Of course if you're more into Vintage Singleton feel free to completely ignore all of it.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Skype logs exporter

Solea's Time... by ERIO from flickr (CC-NC-SA)

Most chat applications of the old times stored their chat logs in plaintext format. I'm sure Skype sends copies of all your messages to NSA (and for all we know also every single other government agency in the world to hedge their bets) in plaintext, so they have your plaintext logs, but they never bothered to provide these logs to you as well.

Fortunately Skype seems to be storing all its local logs in a sqlite database, so I wrote a relatively straightforward export script that converts it to a bunch of plaintext files (plus some image files for everybody's avatars).

It should work on any operating system you can get Ruby working on just fine. (you'll just need to install sqlite3 gem)

Since I'm not NSA, I only have my own Skype logs to work with, so it's very likely I missed a lot of important things - and in any case the format of exported logs might be a bit awkward. You can help me here with pull requests, or by emailing any Skype main.db the script can't handle reasonably to me.  (as we know the bad guys already have it anyway, so don't worry too much about your privacy)

By the way - I haven't been testing any of my code on Ruby 1.8 in quite a while now. Most will probably still work, but I'd really recommend an upgrade to 1.9 or 2.0.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Hidden Object Game Design

So apparently a lot of gamers aren't even aware that Hidden Object Games exist - even people who make  game design videos:

But fear not! I really like the genre, so I prepared some hints on what makes a good hidden objects game, from player's perspective. All purely subjective, but then which such list isn't.

The game

First, HOGs work really well as casual relaxing games. Everybody gets it that different genres of movies elicit different emotions - and the same is true about games. HOG's strength are at creating relaxed time for the player, in artistically interesting world with a bit of storytelling - but if you miss that and try to make them very challenging (something that works very well in many other genres) the player will likely find that frustrating. So throw away timers, scores, and such nonsense. Hints should recharge, not be finite (they don't have to recharge fast). Some games have hardcore mode you can choose from the menu - that's OK, just make casual mode available as well.

The best way to distinguish your game from all others is in distinct art style - and HOGs' diversity stands in contrast to mainstream gaming's obsession with a handful of trends like the infamous brown and grey color palette. 2D art styles tend to look a lot better and immerse in the world more effectively. Some HOGs try "realistic" 3D, and that usually just falls flat.

Story is what turns a bunch of disconnected puzzles into a coherent game. It doesn't need to be brilliant, but it should make some sense. It's quite shocking how diverse stories of budget HOGs tend to be compared to AAA titles, and most of them are pretty decent - and even if they're not they often get a lot of points for just being fresh. Well, maybe except princess stories, I'm quite fed up with them by now. I still remember from back when I was new to the genre a game where I was playing a wedding planner. It took me half the game to figure out that nobody is going to kidnap the bride. Pretty surprising, huh?

By the way - in the Extra Credit video the guys are surprised by protagonist being generally female. I've never really noticed that as being in any way unusual, since in most mainstream games other than military shooters and JRPGs you can choose to play a female character if you want to, and as far as I remember the HOGs I played, there were female protagonists in maybe a bit over half of them - it was closer to balanced than to overwhelmingly female.

If you really need walls of text, they should be spoken, but generally avoid walls of text and keep cutscene to gameplay ratio within reason. Distinct art style works a lot better at establishing the world than walls of text.

It's helpful to give player some general indication of what % of the game passed, like chapter numbers, or count of how many parts of some magical artifact you need to gather to defeat some final boss.
George's Help by Written Voice from flickr (CC-NC-SA)

The puzzles

You need a variety of puzzles. The genre is still called "Hidden Object Games", but many of these games would be better described as Puzzle Adventure Games. These days usually about 1/3 of game time is spent in Hidden Objects sections, about 1/3 in other kinds of puzzles, and 1/3 walking around the map and on cutscenes. Puzzles don't need to be difficult, or good enough to fill the whole game on their own. A simple twist of a well known puzzle can be enough to engage the player for a few minutes, and then we're off to something else.

The player is not your enemy. This is true in all games (I'm speaking about you Paradox and your damn comets!), but especially so in such casual games. Don't hide barely visible slightly darker grey rectangle on grey backgrounds (not too often at least), hide instructions, or force the player to try every single item on every single location in order to proceed because your preferred solution makes no logical sense. The last problem is not new to the genre - it plagued 80s' adventure games even more. Do some playtesting and if players keep trying to carry water in a bucket and you want them to use a kettle instead at least include some explanation on why that doesn't work ("Sorry, the bucket leaks").

Puzzle sections need a restart button. Hopefully you came up with a new kind of puzzle, so the player might want to experiment with it a bit before trying to solve it properly - but then the puzzle might be even more messed than when it started. Just add restart buttons to all of them in case that happens. And obviously there should some instructions, and a skip button (with suitably long time before it becomes active).

There should obviously be some hidden object sections. Try to come up with a bit of variety. Different games have tried so many twists on this that by now you can just pick and choose a few from other games.

Nothing in the game should ever be based on reflexes. No irreversible decisions screwing the player should be possible ever - there's a reason these games don't have quicksave of any kind.

It's perfectly fine to have some kinds of achievements like for completing a chapter in under an hour, or finding some optional and possibly difficult to find items - most players won't really care, but some might.

And that's it for today. Enjoy the gaming.  If you're completely new to the genre I'd recommend starting with Mortimer Beckett series - that's what got me into the genre as well  few years ago - but there's a ton of other great games out there. (feel free to post your recommendations in the comments)