I've posted a brief history of the Assassins! project and I thought I might explore more of the hows and whys of the project. I'll even throw in a few hints of its future and features that are just around the corner well below.

First thing is first: Assassins! Profile Page where you can read about it in the "comfort" of Ye Olde Facebooke Frame, and even become a fan of it or venture into trying it. (You may want to get a handle on the General Rules and Moderator's Guide before attempting to create a game, however.)

This is open beta. There will be bugs, and I appreciate any help in tracking them down. To that purpose there is the Enlark forum at Get Satisfaction or you can email me.

Assassins! is an interesting, and exciting project for me. If the history post illustrates anything it might be that it is a project I should have pushed through faster, years ago. It is a return to strengths that seems necessary at this date. It's also a much better project for a startup. In "lean startup" terms, Assassins is a good "minimum viable product" that I can quickly get people playing today and learn and adapt the game as people play it.

I feel that I should start with what Assassins is not: It is not a manifesto, or the best game I could possibly build right now. It's a game about right now, inherited from the past, designed for everywhere [1], but engineered, in this instance, by me. For what I can to differentiate the project, I've used my strengths as a writer and lover of language, and can only hope that those manifest themselves to the player.

At this point it isn't even a great product, it is a service that might not even be monetizable. It might not be the best business strategy at this point to admit that I'm broke and I don't know if I can make money from my own service. I do feel that I owe history, that I owe players, the ability to play the core mechanics for free. I've done my best to mitigate costs and live at "web scale".

At least as a web service, I'm not alone in the "I don't where the money might come from" business model, even if perhaps I am being openly candid about it. It's Web 2.0, it's always in beta, it's life on the modern web. In the short term it is about encouraging people to have fun, and when the bills are due we'll work to get them paid.

To be honest, part of what of what I've been afraid of is success on the web. On the web, success can be more startling, more frightening than failure. At this point the cost of failure is a couple weeks of work. The price of success has an actual dollar amount and/or player irritation. Viral is good for web apps, but I for one am afraid of viral. (I also think that viral can sit too close to spam for comfort.)

Furthermore, and closer to home, I'm afraid of web development. Every industry, and at times it seems particularly the Games industry, is still locked in a Chinese wall model where web development is wholly separate from "real" development. Certainly my preference to a modern language such as C# already marks me as an "oddball" developer in gaming, but I've felt that "web games" and "web development" on my resume was even then too much of a stigma. I don't want to be pigeon-holed as a "web games guy" and do nothing but web-based projects for the rest of my life. I want to design for everywhere and use what makes the most sense for a project. Even if I have strengths in web development, I still find enough fascination in all forms of art and all varieties of gaming that I don't want to be a "second class citizen" of any form...

But enough of my worries, let us recommence talk about the fun stuff.

The Best Game on Facebook is Assassins!

While Assassins is not intended as a manifesto or a masthead or a flagship product for my small, underfunded company by any means, there is a message that I am hoping to send. I do think most games on Facebook are awful. There is the meager variation in game mechanics on display, few of which I feel qualify as "fun", much less the makings of an actual "game". There is the endless wells of subtly copied versions of the same "game", which is the awful feedback loop that continues to perpetuate the same "games" upon Facebook. Then there's all of the spam, albeit depending on the general spaminess of your own social graph...

At the moment Assassins has zero invites, notifications, wall posts or stream posts. I'm not going to guarantee that it will continue apace and "naked", but I'm going to try my best to keep it "organic". Partly because I want to, for my own sake and ethics. Partly because I'm masochistic enough to try to walk the minefield that is Facebook quotas, suggestions, requirements, and privacy stipulations.

Most importantly to me: Assassins currently has zero queries into a player's social graph. It doesn't have anything "suggesting" how you play or who you play with. And yet, Assassins is a truly social game and requires some sort of social graph to play. The best play in the game comes not from spamming your social graph to get as many as you can involved or, necessarily, from finding the hidden cobwebs in your social graph and getting them involved for completion metrics. The best play comes from carefully chosen and pruned subsets of a person's subgraph. I can see adding some help here, but I'm inclined to believe there is a fine line between nagging and genuine help and I don't think "fun" comes with nagging.

Features to the Future

It's not active yet, so I haven't been able to test it yet, but I've written SMS support for contract completion. I'm going to debut how to do it here and once it is active and tested I'll figure out the best places to mention it in the documentation. Once enabled players should be able to complete contracts by texting enlark-assassins username says secret (where username is the new username in Facebook profile page addresses) or enlark-assassins secret says username to the FBOOK short code. I apologize that the enlark-assassins isn't shorter, but I didn't feel up to changing it everywhere it appears in the application just for shorter text messages. Particularly with so many cellphones providing useful auto-complete tools.

I've also added a simple, preliminary profile tab. I'm not entirely certain what exactly would be useful for a profile tab, or if one would be all that generally useful. I'd certainly appreciate feedback on the subject.

My plan is to work on in-game and post-game statistics over the next few weeks. That's the most crucial thing that I want to add. I've also been thinking about ways for tying Assassins games to Facebook events. I'm not sure all of what I want to do will properly make its way past Facebook's privacy minefield, however.

I've got other features and ideas for features on my list, and I welcome other suggestions.

[1]Raph Koster's slide deck "Designing for Everywhere" is a totem reminder on my laptop's desktop. Not that I need it, perhaps.