Tonight, my company Enlark is "officially" announcing that we have a game opening up as an open beta called Assassins. This is a simple social game, with what I think to be an interesting history, that in this particular beta incarnation is Facebook-based web moderated version. I thought it would be interesting to post some of that history, plus a few technical tidbits for the so-inclined, here on my blog to go alongside the "soft beta launch".

If you are interested in playing send me an email, or hopefully there might be some "looking for players" posts at the support forum. I'm also going to talk to a couple of groups from my college to solicit early "seed players".

I believe I was introduced to Assassins sometime during random internet wanderings during high school. (I have an interest in ARGs and Assassins is very much a proto-ARG.) If not, I definitely encountered it in Dave Barry's satirical novel, Big Trouble, when I read that book senior year of high school (2001-2002) in anticipation of the movie. [1] Big Trouble uses Assassins-related hijinks in one of the many subplots. I spent days at one point late in high school reading the various rules that the Cambridge Assassins Guild had used over the years.

When I arrived at the University of Louisville's Speed Scientific School (renamed to the J. B. Speed School of Engineering during my undergraduate studies), we played several games using a PHP-based web moderation system, designed by Aaron Hatfield who graduated just before I arrived. The moderation system had a very simple, minimalist "tracker" for game progress, taking some of the boring moderation duties and "paperwork" out of the equation for the person writing the game.

Assassins is a game that has several related rules sets and can be just as easily be done solely on pen and paper and by the honor system (as some games have been done). The minimalist "tracker" places a "secret" in the hands of each player and makes that secret the right of that player's assassin and the mark of a successfully completed contract. The web moderator can use these secrets to acknowledge the contract and assign new ones.

Several years later, in part of a larger effort [2] I ended up writing a black box reinterpretation of the earlier PHP-based system in Python for the Django framework. This version was used for a couple of years at the end of my undergraduate career...

Way back in Ought Seven, the Facebook Platform was announced and I immediately knew that the social network was the perfect place for a simple social game like Assassins. I started work on adapting my Django application to a facebook application, but school and other priorities caught up with me and I let the project slip. (In the process I did contribute a few bits and pieces to PyFacebook's development.)

Here we are and to my chagrin there still doesn't seem to be a social game on Facebook with nearly the appropriateness or applicability to one's social network as Assassins has. I'm hoping that it will indeed rise to be one of the best games on Facebook... The beta still has a ways to go before that, I'm sure though. Even without any bugs in what is accessible at this hour, there is still plenty left to do in making it look prettier and an interesting list of future features on my TODO list.

For the technically curious, the version that is in beta is related to the Django application, but has ended up being nearly a total rewrite from it, because I retargeted it to run on Google's App Engine. I'm hoping the GAE rewrite will keep the game relatively cheap to run, and extremely scalable. It's still Python, however. I opted to use FBML entirely, and right now the only biggest request to Facebook is solely to get a user's timezone during object creation or update; just about everything else is (happily) handled with FBML tags. I created a simple utility class for working with Facebook on GAE, and with a little documentation I may publish the class as open source, probably submitting it for review by PyFacebook while I am at it.

It's not the biggest game in Enlark's stable, nor the most interesting. It has been a small side project with nibbles here and there and then a decent sized chunk of time this month. I'm hoping, however, that lots of players will have fun playing it.

As I said, feel free to let me know if you have (a group) interest in playing it. I'm going to see if I can get some early beta testers to pound on it for a few weeks, and then I'll more publicly post the appropriate URLs (and submit it to the Facebook application directory).

[1]The "funny" story there, being that Big Trouble was not a huge success as a film due to some woefully unfortunate timing: the film was originally scheduled for theatrical release in September of that year and the climax of the book/film involves a satire of airport security.
[2]A story for another time, perhaps; although partly discoverable from past blog entries.