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iNK Stories

The Revolution Will Be Kickstarted

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iNK Stories

Navid Khonsari has made a bunch of big-budget video games—he worked on Grand Theft Auto, Max Payne, Red Dead Revolver, and tons more. But his latest project is a bit more personal. Called 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, it goes back to Khonsari's childhood in Tehran. It's a game about the Iranian revolution, and Khonsari needs your help to finish it. He's running a Kickstarter campaign to complete the game. Here's the campaign video, and below, we've got an extensive interview with Khonsari...including a bit about how the Iranian government declared him a spy.

Q&A with Navid Khonsari

Higgins: What kind of gaming experience will this be—is it primarily an exploration game? Is there any player-initiated combat in this?

Khonsari: 1979 is really breaking the mold in the way it interweaves various types of gameplay with a narrative. The gaming experience is primarily exploration/adventure. When designing 1979, we approached it from the perspective of how and what would you really want to engage with in the world of Revolution. Our only goal was creating killer gameplay with a tight emotionally engaging story. We didn't want to be confined by the usual template. We took all that we liked in games, graphic novels, and TV, and brought them together.

Our game architect, Corey Redlien, has been toiling on exciting ways to implement intuitive mechanics with fresh ways of interaction. 1979 gives the player the opportunity to explore a totally new landscape—not a fictitious Prince of Persia world of the Middle East, but the actual streets, alleyways, underground worlds of Tehran during the time. With tremendous attention paid to the accuracy of depiction, your journey of exploration will be thrilling. The heightened jeopardy comes with the stealth play—where we've done intensive work on developing amazing AI to account for smart interactions. Critical decision-making allows the player to shape their story. Relevant micro games, that can be puzzle focused, time sensitive and more, become additional ways to interact with other characters or the environment.

There is no player-initiated combat. Your goal is to navigate the streets, relationships and inner workings of Revolution—you want to avoid detection, not incite attention.

Image courtesy iNK Stories.

Higgins: I'm intrigued by the notion of character choices influencing the action. Can you explain that?

Khonsari: You play as REZA, a college student who becomes a major player in the revolution not because of his political beliefs, but because he wants to be in the heart of the action. As the story progresses, your choices, both large and small, will shape your character's morality and certain choices will have an impact on your trajectory. We've seen lots of attempts at this form of storytelling and it doesn't normally do it justice—so we feel we've learned from these examples.

Image courtesy iNK Stories.

Higgins: I suspect that most Americans are pretty ignorant of Iranian politics in general, both historically and currently. While we occasionally see the revolution portrayed in American film and stuff (notably Argo and to some extent Persepolis), it tends to be a backdrop for other action rather than the story itself. In this game, are you foregrounding the revolution itself as the core story?

Khonsari: 1979 puts you in the revolution - you are on the streets, in the hidden meeting places, orchestrating power shutdowns, radio shutdowns, you are engaging in all the activities that defined the revolution. You, the player, will have to learn to form allegiances and choose between loyalties. Ultimately, once the revolution overturns the government, the new leadership deems the player an enemy of the state—and this is where betrayal becomes a theme of the emotional journey. The revolution is front and center, and is intertwined with the trajectory of the main character's actions.

I totally recognize that a good number of people might not know anything about Iran or the revolution so we plan on giving a brief montage on the events that led to the revolution, the revolution itself, and the aftermath. Our story starts in 1980, in a prison cell during our (player's) confession. The revolution is the event that we experience, from a young university student, to becoming a revolutionary, and then regarded as one of its heroes, to finally becoming the opposition of the new regime, and eventually considered an enemy of the state.

Higgins: When the Iranian government deems you a spy...how do you get that news? Does somebody notify you in an official way?

Khonsari: It was actually written in a conservative newspaper called Keyhan - it was online and a few friends and family notified me. The fact that it's been written in a state-sponsored newspaper is enough to me get detained if I did travel to Iran. There have been too many examples of unlawful arrests and unjust persecutions that I would be foolish to consider going back.

Higgins: How long have you been working on this game? How far along is it now, and what does the Kickstarter project mean for its completion?

Khonsari: I have been working on this game for over two years. The team came together last winter and we built our prototype in five months. Since the prototype's completion we have been working on prototyping all the other elements of the game, from gameplay to animation.

The funds from Kickstarter go to completing the first episode, BLACK FRIDAY. What's great about Kickstarter is that it has launched us and put us on everyone's radar. It's out there—it's happening—this game is going to get made. We are already being solicited by investors as well as partners. The tricky thing is that we need backers, people who support and love the project.

We've been truly overwhelmed by the excitement and hope it's generated by people who are excited to play more challenging content - but having said that, to make this game, we need people to log onto Kickstarter and pledge a donation in exchange for the game or some other great rewards—from being a voice in the game to getting your own character in the game—to spending the day with Showtime's Homeland's most wanted Abu Nazir—Navid Negahban—who is a character in the game.

Image courtesy iNK Stories.

The Kickstarter Campaign

Check out 1979 Revolution: Black Friday on Kickstarter, and kick in if you want to see it made!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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