Finishing Projects – The Tempest

Well I hit the big three-zero last weekend and instead of having an early mid-life crisis, I thought I’d try and hunt for some inspiration to actually push ahead with an exciting idea I had a few weeks ago.

I’ve been involved in and coded a lot of pet projects over the past 10 years, most never come to fruition (e.g. Google Maps Mobile back in 2005) and others face an untimely end (e.g. Sackbook). The biggest of these was back in 2000/1 and is one of those “Damnit Chris, why did you stop?!” nagging what-ifs.

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A Pretty Graph


Hearted Users (Subsample from early December). Generated by fdp (graphviz). 2877 nodes, 3803 edges. Click to enlarge.

PS3 iPlayer is back up (Warning: Slight rant!)

Sorry for the downtime (again!) – the changes the BBC have been making lately aren’t huge, but thanks to their obfuscation of the iPlayer’s Javascript files, the simple job of maintaining PS3 iPlayer becomes horrendously complicated.

Not only does the obfuscation make it difficult to write the required regular expressions (a way for programs to look through text and pick out and modify specific sections), it also makes finding and understanding any changes needlessly time-consuming.

Now, I’m all for companies protecting their IP by taking measures to protect any source code that has to run client-side (i.e. Javascript), but in the BBC’s case I don’t see why they do this with iPlayer. The iPlayer uses a few BBC specific libraries for handling the UI elements (e.g. the carousel), but nothing that couldn’t be replaced with a number freely available open-source libraries.

The BBC is also a public body that really should be keeping these things open for people to look at and learn from and it’s not as if javascript obfuscation is any real protection against any commercial organisation that’s intent on saving a time and money by stealing the BBC’s code. I can understand that when it comes to the content, they have to be careful to respect the rights-holders’ wishes, but as far as I can tell, the iPlayer’s javascript is entirely the BBC’s own IP.


Happy New Year! Here’s to a great 2009!

One of my resolutions the past few years has been to try to do something news-worthy (though nothing notorious) during the year. 2008 was a bit of a bumper year with PS3iPlayer, O:SC and Sackbook getting mentioned by purveyors of fine tech and gaming news, so this year I’m going to cheat a little and reserve Sackbook (Strikes Back) to 2009.

For those waiting for an update on what’s happening with Sackbook; I’m afraid I can’t give any firm timescales as to when the site will be up and running – things move slowly at this time of year (everyone is too full of good nosh). However I have been using my time between scoffing turkey sandwiches and mince pies productively to get some funky new features on the site. Here’s a sneak peak of a couple:

Operation: Sleeper Cell in Guardian’s Aleks Top 5 Games of 2008

Operation: Sleeper Cell, our little fundraising game for Cancer Research UK, has been gradually winding up over the past few weeks. I’m hoping to keep the site up and running to let players continue to solve the puzzles and carry on donating if they’re feeling super-generous.

We got some wonderful news today – Aleks, of the Guardian’s Gamesblog, has named OSC as one of her top 5 games of the year amongst other greats such as Braid and LittleBigPlanet. Thank you Aleks!

Sackbook and Corrupt Images

I’ve had a few people tell me that some of their pictures aren’t showing up on Sackbook. After considerable hair-pulling I’ve worked out what’s going on and I think I’ve fixed it (slightly more technical detail after the jump!)

However there’s a slight problem; there’s now a few corrupt converted images out there which have either a black strip along the bottom, or a strip filled with funny colours. If you spot any of these on the site, please send me a message or leave a comment here with the address of the level or profile in question and I’ll get the site to reconvert them.

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Full Screen and High Quality Mode

You wait ages for a useful feature and two come along at once. has been updated to support the last night’s 2.53 firmware update. If you’re running version 2.53 or greater you should get the high quality H.264 streams (when available) and when playback begins, the player will automatically fill the screen. As before, press the circle button to get back to the webpage (as feared, no other buttons work in full-screen mode.)

The framerate isn’t as smooth as I’d like, so I might try and implement the BBC’s high/normal quality switch so users can decide between image quality or framerate.

Update: It didn’t take long for me to have enough of the choppy playback. I’ve gone ahead and implemented the BBC’s high/normal quality switch. As with the BBC’s iPlayer on the PC, the default quality is ‘normal’ and if you click ‘Play high quality’, it will play the H.264 stream. You can tell which version it’s going to play as it appears in parentheses after the ‘Press X to play’ message.

Busy Times

PS3 Firmware 2.53 finally hit last night, bringing full-screen flash and RTMP support (and possibly other unknown treats), the BBC switched on the redirection to point the PS3 to the iPlayer’s BigScreen interface (which works well) and I soft-launched my latest PS3-related project, a social-networking site for LittleBigPlanet with a difference; it integrates somewhat with live data from the game. It is “beta” at the moment (what web-based projects aren’t these days?) but you can check it out at

For those wondering, despite the BBC officially supporting the PS3, will not be vanishing. For those who prefer its interface to the BBC’s offering, I’ll try to keep it well-maintained. Speaking of which, tonight I’ll add support for 2.53’s full-screen support and see if it helps with the H.264 problems we’ve been having.

The H.264 Problem

The recent comments from SCE firmware engineers regarding the Flash implementation has given me a nudge to look into H.264 support a bit more. They say it should work, adding &fmt=6 to YouTube “watch” URLs says it should work; yet for the life of me I can’t get the BBC’s H.264 streams to play. The very same Flash player shows the videos in their high-quality glory on a PC, but on a PS3 it just hit with a NetStream.Play.Stop event (as mentioned before, the same behaviour you get on pre 9.0.115 versions of Flash on the PC when trying to play H.264 streams).

Taking an educated guess at the cause, if my experience of trying to get the iPlayer’s H.264 videos for the iPhone to play on the PS3 is anything to go by, it may be down to the H.264 streams being muxed into a MOV container and not an ISO-MPEG4 container (MP4); the PS3 will not play the former.

I am not certain how Flash Media Server operates, if it sends all the metadata from the source video file, or just specific parts, but there are certain “atoms” within an MOV file that prevents the PS3 from playing the video. It is trivial to remove them and replace them with ISO-MPEG4 equivalents, but if they make it through Flash Media Server and the RTMP stream, they may be what’s causing the problems.

P.S. Sorry for the downtime today – the BBC deployed some changes to make their fancy javascript-based widgets work over HTTPS and it threw things a little out of whack.

On The Big Screen

Yesterday the BBC released their version of the iPlayer optimised for use on TV-connected devices; the BigScreen interface, and made this the default interface for the Wii. This change was picked up by PS3 iPlayer and resulted in PS3 users being sent to this version, which isn’t ideal as there are a few incompatibility problems to that need to be ironed out.

For now I’ve switched PS3 iPlayer back to the normal PC version. The big question is which do you guys prefer? The easy-to-use minimal interface designed for use with a remote, or the more informative ‘traditional’ version? How about Steve’s idea of a button to switch between the two, or is there some sort of half-way-house that people would like?

Also, some great news from Anthony Rose’s blog post:

PS: We’re also working on bringing BBC iPlayer to Sony PS3, but we’re not quite there yet as the PS3 uses a slightly older version of Flash which doesn’t support some of the features used in our media player, and the very promising Flash 9 update now available on PS3 has some compatibility issues. Our Flash developers are working on it – stay tuned for updates.