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Google Businesses The Internet Entertainment Games

"Necessary Complexity" in Online Games 95

Massively is running a story about Google's short-lived virtual environment, Lively. The article examines why Lively shut down so quickly, and how its simplicity and its attempts at user-friendliness did more harm than good. Quoting: "The idea here is that any interactive system has a certain amount of complexity, usually involving the number and type of tasks which can be performed. Obviously, it is detrimental if the interaction interface is more complicated than it needs to be. That just makes things harder. What's a little less obvious is that reducing the complexity of the interaction interface too far makes things harder as well. Either it makes it hard to perform the tasks, or it reduces the number of tasks which can be performed. ... ideally the interaction interface needs to be of an order of complexity that is coupled to the order of complexity of the number and type of possible tasks. If it rises above that or falls below that, performing tasks becomes harder. Performing tasks with an oversimplified interaction-interface is like trying to make coffee with one hand tied behind your back. Overcomplicating it is like trying to instruct five people to build a shed, when none of you have any language in common."
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"Necessary Complexity" in Online Games

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  • The hey is Lively? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 03, 2009 @04:51AM (#26310075)

    I think one of the problems is I, even as an avid google user and surfer of /. and several many other sites did not even know about "Lively".

    If they advertised this on google's main page, just think of the results? Maybe they had, but I never ever once saw an ad.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Saroset ( 1383483 )
      I never heard of lively till just now! It looks like it was pretty cool =[.
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You can try "New Lively". Its the same code just ported over to a different set of NON-google servers.

        • I just searched 'new lively,' and Google didn't return until page 2.

          I am not logged onto any Google services currently, and should be pretty much anonymous to their search pages.

          It would seem that the advertising problem with this project is only getting worse.

          • I am not logged onto any Google services currently, and should be pretty much anonymous to their search pages.

            Yes, believe that! Mwuhahahaha! -- Sentient Google Farm

  • by neokushan ( 932374 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @06:03AM (#26310381)

    I don't think "complexity" and "having shit to do that is worth doing" are necessarily the same thing. Simplicity is good, simplicity is why we write those shell scripts instead of typing them out each and every time, I think the problem with Lively was that it had no point, no goal, it was just...pointless. In something like WoW, you have tasks, quests, missions, whatever you want to call them. You have goals, objectives, you have character development. Yet, it's all quite user friendly, I wouldn't call it a "complex" game at all.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by RobinH ( 124750 )

      What are the goals and objectives in Second Life then?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Opportunist ( 166417 )

        From what I hear it's "getting virtually laid".

        Which leads me to "it's not just that goals have to be achiveable, you also have to want to achive them to make the whole thing good"...

      • There are none, which is why I got bored of Second Life almost instantly and never went back after my first 2 times there.
      • Showing off your clever sandbox creations. It's like a frustratingly simplified, slow version of lightwave hybridized with robocode and placed in a 3d chat environment.

        I would say it's quite an improvement over robocode, though.

    • Also it seems to assume that complex things can't be built out of simple things - which flies in the face of all emergent behaviour.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by fractoid ( 1076465 )
        Things that are too simple, or things that cannot sufficiently interact, cannot form complex things. Emergent behaviour does require a certain level of interaction. Imagine that boids weren't aware of their closest neighbours or the centerpoint of the swarm - how well would they flock then?
    • Yes and no (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @08:39AM (#26310937) Journal

      Well, actually while it's not a "complex" game, it does kind of illustrate their point.

      Think this: what if we took WoW and simplified it even _more_. Would it make it more fun, or, past a point, it actually turns it into a boring kiddie game? (At this point some guy who got bored of the endgame raids will want to butt in and say it was a boring game to start with. Bear with me for a bit, I'll get to that too.)

      The easiest low-hangin-fruit example is SWG. Sony or the SWG team seem to have had an "OMG, Blizzard is making more money with simplistic games for retards" and proceeded to do the ill advised NGE. That's what the NGE did: over-simplified it. In a major way. Pet classes were gone. The complex and flexible skill system was gone and replaced by a linear level skill that was actually more simplistc than Blizzards (no talents, minimal skills, etc.) The races were simplified into all having the same stats and just different looks. The interface was over-simplified into a bad FPS interface. Etc. The game became a bad FPS with levels and, oh, maybe 10 skills/spells total you'd get by level 80. They actually lost most customers there. While some hung around begging for Sony to undo the stupidity (yeah, right), the number of active players at any given time had sunk like a lead duck. Heck, like a depleted uranium duck.

      Or as an anecdote, there's this guy I know which plays a healer wherever he goes. That's the kind of character he likes to play. So he buys AOC at launch, and makes a healer. According to him, the fact that heals were PBAOE and he just needed to mash one button, actually made him cancel his subscription. He didn't even have to target a party member. Just mash the heal button. It got boring really fast.

      Or let's get even further. There have been games so simplified that you could have played it with a gamepad. Needless to say, none got too many players, even if they survived.

      Think of doing the same to WoW. Heck, I can't even imagine what 4 skills to map on a gamepad's buttons for any hybrid or pet class. If you're, say, a paladin, between healing, seals, auras, etc, you don't even have a button for each _type_ to cycle through them. Shaman? You'd have one button for each element, so no way you'd still have as many totems as today, and that doesn't even leave you with a button for attacking. Warlock or hunter? Lemme see, 1 button for sending in the pet, 1 button to heal the pet, that leaves you with 2 buttons for your spells. You don't even have enough for the "unholy trinity" of Corruption, Curse Of Agony, and Immolate, that warlocks use since the low levels. You don't have enough room as it is, never mind more complex strategies with spells like Fear, drains, or even to make soul shards.

      Would it make it better if we simplified it some more like that? Like heck it would. IMHO it would become a major bore.

      And to get back to WoW and people bored of endgame raids, what's the #1 complaint? That it gets boring. And it's not just the repetition, but also that each class is pushed into some narrow role where most of its skills become useless. There are classes which can get through a raid with 1-2 spells total, e.g., any healer. It's not very exciting in the long run.

      So to get this long rant anywhere near a conclusion: IMHO the secret of WoW isn't just "keep it simple", but that they hit a sweet spot between simplicity and still allowing lots of stuff to do. I.e., pretty much what the summary was saying.

      • I think Blizz already overstepped the oversimplification barrier with WoW's latest expansion. I get that impression from reading the boards.

        Currently, the big craze on the boards I read (yours may vary) is the damage output of the damage dealer classes, and people complaining that they're being reduced to the damage they can possibly dish out. Personally, I see that as a sign that the threshold to "too simple" has been broken. When the only thing that defines "make or break" of an MMO raid is whether you ge

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by AntiNazi ( 844331 )

          But it also shows something else. That people create challenges when they cease to exist. The new challenge is to perfect your "rotation", i.e. finding out what skill to use when to maximize your output. Not as much a challenge as keeping aggro management and CC in mind, but still, it's a new challenge.

          That's the new challenge? Every DPS worth their salt has been trying to maintain the perfect rotation since Molten Core. The sole objective of a DPS class is to do the maximum amount of damage possible in a

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Opportunist ( 166417 )

            It's not the new challenge. It's the only challenge left. With CC being pointless and aggro management a problem of the past, the only thing that DDs have to take care about anymore is to fire their skills in the right rotation. Something that a halfway decent script could do, and probably better due to millisecond precision.

            The reason people wanted Pallies to tank is that they could do the AoE aggro routine everyone enjoys now, thus keeping the DDs from having to stop shooting, thus making the whole thing

            • I agree that too easy becomes a loser. That doesn't change the fact that aggro management has always sucked in WOW. (Nearly?) Every aggro management fight has been a "slow dps, just keep the tank up fight". Simple spank and tank. I assure you, from experience, not very entertaining. When it comes down to it. Stopping and waiting is a pretty bad mechanic for entertainment no matter how you slice it.

              I wouldn't mind more CC being needed, except for one key thing, one that affects me personally as well. Not a
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by fractoid ( 1076465 )
            I'd beg to differ, slightly. "DPS Rotation" is a term that has very little meaning today in terms of "do X twice then Y three times". It's a flowchart now due to all the procs - for instance the prot warrior threat 'rotation' is:
            * If you can shield slam, shield slam
            * If you can't shield slam then revenge
            * If you cant use revenge then devastate
            * If you can't use devastate then thunderclap (move this to pt 2 if you have 2+ mobs on you)

            DPS is more complicated if you want to actually min-max it instead of
            • I agree with the flow chart rather than rotation, I just rolled with rotation as that is what the parent used and a lot of players in game use, even though it's more like a flow chart. Respec fury though and your flow chart starts looking an awful lot like a rotation again.
        • Having experience of at least some of the raiding in Wrath of the Lich King (I play a tank-specced warrior, I've lead a group of randomly picked-up players that killed 3/4 of the entry level raid dungeon, Naxxramas) - they're actually requiring more attention and less fail-ness than ever before if you get past the heroic level 5-man dungeons. They have a couple of retard-check bosses that will totally screw over a party who can't move fast when required, and a few bosses that are pretty easy if everyone can
      • I can't even imagine what 4 skills to map on a gamepad's buttons for any hybrid or pet class.

        With a typical console controller (Xbox 360, Wii Classic, or Dual Shock series), you get a directional pad, left and right analog sticks, four face buttons, and four shoulder buttons. This allows up to twelve actions out of the box (face + shoulder + D-pad), plus camera control on the right stick if needed. This is something you have to think about even on the PC if you want to be able to sell premium subscriptions that allow split screen.

        • 1. Actually, I'm not even going to argue with you there, because we're making completely different points.

          You're saying that a game could be made for a gamepad. Well, probably.

          Mine is merely to illustrate an (over-the-top) over-simplification and its effects it would have on a game. So my contrived example uses a gamepad with only 4 buttons for the skills and, let's say, the shoulder buttons to cycle through enemies and respectively friendlies (e.g., if you need to heal them.) Can you make WoW as fun on tha

          • I've played both console MMORPG's, FFXI and EQOA, they handle the control issues slightly differently.

            EQOA uses the circle button for skills and spells. Circle always casts the active skill on the active target. The active skills are stored in 2 skill bars holding 5 skills each which are controlled with the d-pad. IIRC you cycle between targets with one of the shoulder buttons. Pet control is handled via the quick chat interface. EQOA could use another skill bar since, as a Cleric, I found myself cyclin

            • This is something I really enjoy about FFXI's interface. The fact that it is a complex game that has a interface designed to be efficient with a PS2 controller. Instead of having the 4987 macros I have in WoW I only have/need 20, both are accessed with a push of the shoulder buttons. I am mainly a Red Mage so I have a tone of spells but I only use a few of them constantly. If I need any others they are easily accessible via the spell menu.

        • Actually, if you map button combos you can have a lot more.

          Forgetting the analog sticks, and using them only for movement and camera you've now got: face (4) + shoulder (4) + D-pad (8 [diagonals included]) = 16 single buttons.

          Then combos with the 8 D-Pad directions and 1 of the other 8 buttons gives you 64 more.

          Then combos using just 2 regular buttons (face + shoulder) gives you 28 more.

          So now you've got 16 + 64 + 28 = 108 possibilities.

          If you take out the diagonals of the D-Pad then you lose 4 (single) + 3

      • by Alsee ( 515537 )

        You could simplify WoW down to a joystick and two buttons.

        Warrior needs food, badly.
        Elf has been eating all the food lately!


      • Or let's get even further. There have been games so simplified that you could have played it with a gamepad. Needless to say, none got too many players, even if they survived.

        Playing guitar hero takes six buttons. I can't name _any_ gamepad that doesn't have that many (maybe except some variants of the "arrrrrrrr! Pirates' Keyboard"), yet the game sells well enough to spawn six sequel/spinoff games (II, III, Rock Band, Metallica, Aerosmith, 80's).

  • PlayStation Home (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tokerat ( 150341 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @06:28AM (#26310453) Journal
    Kinda reminds me of PlayStation Home, except PSH is a marketplace and a way to gather networked game sessions - What was the point of Lively, again?
  • by Klootzak ( 824076 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @06:55AM (#26310547)

    Of a very well built piece of software (after they fixed the lack of caching) that did nothing new or interesting, aside from let some University Conveners try and impress the female students in their subject.

    It looked to me like someone at Google wanted to create a 3D graphically-enhanced version of IRC, isn't that what IMVU [] already did?
    I mean jeez, WoW players were doing that (in addition to maintaining their virginity) WAY back...

  • Screw that. (Score:1, Redundant)

    by Skofo ( 1436851 )
    Better yet, online games need to stop being total grind fests. Why haven't more MMO's done that yet?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dutch Gun ( 899105 )

      Better yet, online games need to stop being total grind fests. Why haven't more MMO's done that yet?

      Simple. Because it's insanely hard to create enough actual content to keep up with players' demands.

      Take a look at a typical first-person shooter. It has an considerable amount of content, but because the gameplay is designed to whisk the player through the environment once (maybe twice in parts), and fairly quickly at that, you end up at 6 to 14 hours as a pretty typical game length. Even then, you're still going to run into a lot of "repeater" content, such as the same types of enemies, similar looking

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

        There's just no practical way to give players enough original content to satiate their demands, and hold their interest for long periods of time. So, advancement through the game is deliberately slowed.

        They should hire Chinese gold farmers to play NPCs.

      • by EEBaum ( 520514 )
        The problem, imho, is the focus on "content" over gameplay. So many games these days are based on "how much content is there?" and "how many hours of play does it offer?"

        There are games out there where the gameplay mechanics alone can provide countless hours of replayability. Super Mario Kart, Starcraft, Command & Conquer, Guitar Hero, Sim City, etc. all offer this. It's trickier on the MMO end of things, but mid-scale online multiplayer games have done it in the past with large-scale mission-based
        • The third possible solution is to use emergent behavior AI to build a gameworld that practically runs itself. Goblins are getting hungry, so they start raiding the nearby town. Nearby town gets defensive, and starts adding quests to kill goblins. Goblins eventually either die out or move on. NPC wizard walking through his enchanted wood randomly finds an artifact that drives him mad, and he starts raising skeletal minions and so forth to protect his tower. The abomination needs to be wiped out, so the Natur

          • This is awesome IF it actually works. The problem is that stable ecologies are ridiculously hard to build, even when they only contain foxes and rabbits. When they contain the hundreds of different races and species that modern MMOs do, a real ecology would be well-nigh impossible to design that wouldn't end up 3 days later being overrun with mice while everything else has died out and a huge high-level monster is terrorizing the starter zones. :P
            • If you use a genetic algorithm to generate the AI decision trees for both "groups" (towns; merchant guilds; monster camps) and individuals, this sort of solves your problem. Because not only is it evolving smarter pathfinding/survival AI (not necessarily combat AI) for the monsters, it's also evolving smarter AI for the rabbits and foxes and towns too. If you add in random small mutations to creature stats, too, you'll really be cooking with fire.

              It is really difficult though! I remember when UO first came

            • by EEBaum ( 520514 )
              So you make an emergent system that can be futzed with "from on high" by a GM. Too many mice? Introduce temporary quests with high rewards for collecting mouse tails. Not enough mice? Introduce temporary mouse-repopulation quests where players are given bonuses for distributing mice from a central breeding center to mouse-poor areas. Balancing the ecology BECOMES the game, and makes quests actually seem meaningful.
              • That's actually fairly similar to what I want to do with the MMO design spec that I'm working on (what, doesn't everyone have one of those? :P ) with, among other things (AMG DUN STEEL MAH IDEEAZ!) each faction having a GM who controls them, in terms of tells them who to attack, gives work orders to build new encampments, chooses what quests they offer etc.

                It would require a little more in the way of hands-on game management but the extra required manpower seems trivial in comparison with the gain in dyna
      • Simple. Because it's insanely hard to create enough actual content to keep up with players' demands.

        Which is why emergent behavior and AI needs to take a huge leap forward to make MMOs really fun. I'm actually working on building a virtual ecology using genetic algorithms to generate AI decision trees at the moment. First it's just getting mobs to find food and eat it. Then it's adding in an aggressive mob that will eat the first set of mobs if it can find them. After that, it's simply adding in a mating pr

      • by wisty ( 1335733 )

        A false sense of achievement ("Hey I EARNED that sword of infinity plus one!") is the need filled by the "grind". Just like slot-machines, really. Actually, I think there was an article way back putting this on more of a scientific footing...

        • Also, the only currency that really carries over from the real world is time. If you can instantly get a full set of 'endgame' gear then that gear isn't worth anything to you (witness the current experience in WoW where after two weeks worth of raids you're in 80% of the best gear and you have nothing to play for). The whole idea of level and stat based RPGs is that your character gets better at the game so you don't really have to.

          As for the connection between slot-machines and MMOs, it's to do with the
    • Pretty much every response to this focuses on enhancing the environment so that it is not so uniform and predictable.

      Perhaps the answer is to stop exclusively interacting with the environment, and interact with the other players once in a while.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... or at least none who have read the seminal "No Silver Bullet []" paper which introduces the difference between accidental complexity [] and essential complexity []. Sort version: you can't simplify a complex task because it is inherently complex.

    P.S. go ahead and mod me down because I'm not a google fanboy. Your ignorance can't eliminate theirs.

  • by firmamentalfalcon ( 1187583 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @08:56AM (#26310993)

    The argument's flawed. Lively had a simple interface and it failed, so let's blame it on the simple interface!

    Given _a_ program, there is a direct relationship between the simplicity of the interface and quality. In the set of all programs that allows for the same set of interactions, the program with the simplest interface wins.

    The problem with Lively is that its set of interactions was not large enough. Its problem was not the interface that delivers these interactions. It's like saying the monitor isn't working when your program doesn't compile.

    • In the set of all programs that allows for the same set of interactions, the program with the simplest interface wins.

      The problem is that you reach a point where you can't simplify the interface without reducing the set of interactions.

      If you have a graphics editing program that can save in more than one format, the interface needs to include a way of choosing. A car with an auto box has a simpler interface (one less pedal), but reduced functionality (can't heel and toe).

      • You can have the same interactions. But the interface command sequence grows longer.

        A chess clock I know has one button you press seventeen times in something resembling morse code to set every feature it has, but it has a lot of features!

        • While the chess clock's appearance may be simple, the morse code is part of the "interface" so it should be seen as a complex interface. A simple interface should be one without a large learning curve.

          Good (useful) interactions, simple interface=Apple's Ipod- to sleep it took a minute to figure out, but otherwise, it was good; is pretty good too

          Good interactions, complex interface=your chess clock

          Bad (worthless) interactions, simple interface=Lively

          Bad interactions, complex interface=

      • Yes, but within all the graphics editing programs that can save in jpeg and bmp, the one with the simplest interface wins. A graphics editing program that can save in only jpeg may have a simpler interface, but it does not even compete because it was _disqualified_ for not being able to "save in jpeg and bmp" as the rules of the competition state.

        The article is comparing toy cars with real cars. Lively the toy car is nearly useless while WoW the real car is not useless. However, the article skips over th

        • you can't simplify the interface without reducing the set of interactions

          Yes, but within all the graphics editing programs that can save in jpeg and bmp, the one with the simplest interface wins.

          I don't see what your problem is, I never said it didn't.

          To put it another way; you can always make the interface more complex than [it needs to be to perform] the underlying task. But you can't make it simpler.

  • 1. WoW user interface. It was perfect. When I first played WoW I thought the interface was just right, not overwhelming but complex enough to do everything I wanted my character to do reasonably easy. Then I learned I could customize the interface in-game to add more toolbars, get more buttons, I learned more keyboard shortcuts, I thought it was perfect. THEN I learned about custom made interface addons. Holy Christ you can do so much in Wow to enhance the interface by effectively managaing greater and grea
    • Why can't there be multiple front ends to the same back end set of features? The "dumbed down" thing will serve a business purpose. It's now really the era of "simple interface - advanced interface".

  • by Lordfly ( 590616 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @11:20AM (#26311665) Homepage Journal that it's been reduced to such a simple game that there's nothing to do. It's a simulation game without any simulation.

    Any game that touts a "simulation" of an entire galaxy that doesn't even let carnivores and herbivores interact on planet surfaces has gotten nearly everything wrong.

    Maxis's previous game SimLife had more complex systems interacting than Spore does. And Sim Life came out in 1993.

    The most interesting games, to me, are the ones that have multiple systems that interact with each other with simple, but easily combine-able mechanics. Simcity's a good example... traffic effects land value which effects what goes on the land which effects your tax revenue, and so on. Those kinds of games offer tons of replayibility, because you're constantly changing systems that affect other systems.

    Anyways, just my two cents. Spore might be popular, but it was my biggest gaming disappointment in half a decade.

  • Asheron's Call was one of the first MMORPGs when it came out in 1999, long before WoW had dumbed everything down. There was no classes, just a huge list of basic skills (i.e., melee defense, unarmed combat, thrown weapons, alchemy) -- you had to decide what you wanted to do and train/specialize a set of these skills that uniquely defined your character. You needed to have component items to cast spells, and you had to do research and some guessing to learn the spells. The PvP server was harsh, but the mo
  • []

    Tobold: January 02, 10:40am

    Massively: January 02, 3:00pm

    Ancient Gaming Noob's 2009 prediction of the Tobold Cult are on target!

  • What's a little less obvious is that reducing the complexity of the interaction interface too far makes things harder as well. Either it makes it hard to perform the tasks, or it reduces the number of tasks which can be performed. ... ideally the interaction interface needs to be of an order of complexity that is coupled to the order of complexity of the number and type of possible tasks.

    Which is why some of us don't buy the marketing notion that a GUI makes a computer easy to use.

    Maybe if you only actually use it to do a few simple things, but if you want to harness the full power of a computer you need a command line... or a program language.

  • This is just a restatement of Ashbey's Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety: [] which can also be restated as "Every Good Regulator of a System Must be a Model of that System"
  • by EEBaum ( 520514 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @03:59PM (#26313595) Homepage
    I messed around with Lively for a bit, and can easily say that it was a turd. It felt like an extremely limited version of Active Worlds, offering really nothing to do other than change your clothes and walk around a room.

    Maybe if it had features (i.e. stuff you can do) it would have gone somewhere. Blaming its failure on a lack of complexity is like blaming a box of tissues for failing as a refrigerator because it only has one little slot to put things in. What it called an open beta, I'd call a pre-alpha tech demo. There was simply nothing there.

    Oh, and it was about as user-friendly as the power button on the dome-shaped iMacs (a white button with a white icon on it, perfectly flush with the white surface of the unit, on the back of the unit... without a user manual -- I was at a friend's -- it literally took me hours to find).
  • so i only noticed the necessary complexity(didnt see gaming) and was really disappointed this wasn't a mac bashing article
  • by w0mprat ( 1317953 ) on Saturday January 03, 2009 @07:35PM (#26315179)
    Lively is not intended to be a game, but it was intended to be used by humans. Which I don't think Google anticipated.

    Why games of any kind fun is because fundamentally humans enjoy learning. If you remove the complexity from a game or quasi-game in terms of the interface, tasks and challenges presented you a simple removing things that are enjoyable.

    In the case of complexity alone, you are removing depth. But from what I found with lively it was so stripped bare it had NOTHING.

    I'm all for making things accessible to people who are not so quick to figure things out, or perhaps just have a low tolerance for wasting time fighting a confusing interface. Dumbing down is what you do in lieu of designing the interface properly in the first place and in this case Lively was just plain Dumb(tm) right off the bat. Lets making a carefull distinction here: dumbing down implies there was once a smart idea at all.

    Come on Google, do something like lively, with interesting physics sandbox and it's google earth and twitter and gtalk all mashed up and linked to my GPS and webcam so my avatar can walk around the world in real time as I do. I'll send you my job application.
  • Overcomplicating it is like trying to instruct five people to build a shed, when none of you have any language in common.

    "No, no! This one goes there, that one goes there! Got it?"

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead