The dots history. Part IV

Interrupted flight

In the middle of the first decade of the XXI century the rapid development of Internet technologies opened up new possibilities for the network socialization as well as for the creation and promotion of game products. The era of social networks and browser games began. The networks provided access to a wide audience, the browser games – convenience and simplicity of use. In complex it promised the maximum effect resulting from the minimum effort. Surely the developers of various kinds of entertainment virtual products could not blow such a chance. The combination of the components could be different, but the essence remained the same no matter either the social networks provided their own game applications or the Web clients acquired social functionality.

Dots also did not keep out of the progress. The Points XT was still actively used, when the first browser client appeared in the former Soviet Union. It was created as a part of “Rambler Games” service and officially launched January 16, 2007.

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This project, however, couldn’t be called successful. Its state was very well described by Pavel Milov, whose site we have already cited more than once. Let us turn to him again, because Milov was a direct eyewitness of those events, and he played on the Rambler. He described his experience as follows: "…a certain group of admirers began to form around the game in the first months of its existence despite the small field size (15 × 12), unstable operation and cheating in order to get higher positions in the table of best results… Some noticeable improvements in the game quality were brought about in summer and autumn of the same year (2007 – author’s note): the field was increased (33 × 18), the central region for the first moves was introduced, and the encircled environments without dots were no longer painted over. The highlighting of the latest placed dot was made, though it wasn’t perfect. The limit of time became mandatory for the rating games. The number of disconnects from the game server was reduced… The game underwent some small cosmetic changes as well…: the avatar selection at the entry and the calculation of the square of captured territories sank into oblivion. But, despite all these positive improvements the game was still at the testing stage by the end of the first year of its existence. It was not put on the general list of games, therefore its attendance by the visitors of the portal was low…” It was a comprehensive assessment which proved that in respect to the game the client was seriously inferior to the Points XT. In fact it was an anachronism of the paper dots era. This fact, as well as the technological imperfection and the service administration’s frivolous attitude to the project did not allow to draw the sufficient audience. As a result, the dots on the Rambler didn’t last long. The last mention of the client in the web archive is dated June 28, 2009.

Apparently, a little bit later than on the Rambler-Games the dots appeared on the “Livegames (Playset)” game portal as well. At the very least, the first mention of this resource on Milov’s site dates to June 2008, although the portal had been launched in 2006. The Livegames proved to be quite a successful commercial project that exists and grows up to now. Being the collection of numerous games of all kinds and having a lot of functions for communication and accentuation of the player’s status, the portal always had high attendance and, accordingly, the constant inflow of new players. At first the dots also got a part of the inflow. Among the indisputable advantages of the client we should mention its reliability and the high-quality technical support. Nevertheless, despite the ideal starting conditions the dots on the Livegames didn’t become and, apparently, could not become the replacement or at least the equivalent of the Points XT. This was prevented by the philosophy of the portal which was, in fact, a big online casino. The eye-catching design, the abundance of graphic and functional elements, the virtual currency, the “tables” and the bets on each game were designed to create the atmosphere of a reputable gambling-house. Quite a conditional rating system did not show the real skill and it was focused mainly on the gaming activity. This was perfect for the card games, but it clearly contradicted the spirit of dots. The functionality of the dots client was always very poor and was rarely improved. The client had a single game mode (without the territory, the encirclement at the minimum path, no landing, the single crossing in the field center) and the minimum range of settings (three variants of the field size and several options of countdown). The players couldn’t watch the earlier played games, and the visualization of the field and dots was poor.

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The client on the Livegames never hosted the dots tournaments. It wasn’t popular among the strongest players. Searching for the skill growth its regular players sooner or later moved to other platforms. The specific game style unwelcomed anywhere but the Livegames (the so-called “house-building”) was typical of the client. The absence of the landing rule and the small field led to the fact that the players, having made a draw debut, started the monotonous construction of the “houses”. When the field was filled, there was nothing left for the players but to put the dots into the “houses”, thus losing the score points. The player who had “built” more “houses” became the winner.

Of course, such a situation affected the number of players. It decreased every year and the demand for the client has almost vanished by now. Perhaps the major contribution of this site to the development of dots was the fact that one of the best players in the history, Sergey Chernobrovin, had begun his career on the Livegames.

The attempts to attract people to the newly created Web clients with the help of dots were undertaken during this period by more modest developers too. So, the game portal the “jGamez” appeared on the web in summer 2008. The authors announced their intention to create the collection of different games on this platform. Dots were among them. The technical and marketing capabilities of the developer were insignificant, as can be concluded from the fragmentary information stored in the web archive. In this regard, the jGamez reminded the purely amateur programs which had been created by the enthusiasts in the early 2000s.

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The client functionality was very poor: one field size (31 to 31), no crossing, the unlimited game-time. The houses were painted over. However there was a possibility to end the game by landing. The audience was scanty, so the development of the portal soon ceased. There was no mention of the jGamez in the web archive since September 2008.

Well, the audience was always the key problem. It was not easy to attract and even more difficult to keep. In the first case, the correct decision could be made thanks to the natural course of the network technologies development. In the second case, the success depended on the quality of the product and its continuous improvement. These two elements came together at the end of 2008. And the breakthrough came.

board logic game dots kolnogorovAt that time the social network gained popularity and announced a contest for the developers of applications on the basis of their API. One of the participants was Artem Kolnogorov, who introduced the application for playing dots, which later became famous under the name the "Vkontakte Dots". The first version of the client was launched in late June 2008, as testified by the earliest record dedicated to the application in its community. At first, it was a very simple, perhaps, even a primitive application. However, the basic things such as the style of the interface elements, the design of the game field and the encirclement algorithm proved to be extremely successful and progressive. Due to this factor as well as to the considerable interest of the users of the social network denoted almost immediately, the client was actively developed and improved.

board logic game dots vkontakte

The regular updates were made in the first year. The acceptable reliability was achieved. The ranking system, the time countdown, the statistics, the games archive, the expanded list of settings, the improved opportunities for communication and learning were added. Vitaliy Kolosov also made the considerable contribution to the project development as far as the game process and the sports activities were concerned. He joined the project in a few months after the launch of the application. He had been intrigued by the novelty and had offered his assistance to Kolnogorov. The experience accumulated within the Points XT lifetime came in handy and allowed the Vkontakte Dots to become the most advanced playground of that time. In addition Kolnogorov did not thoughtlessly copy the predecessors: the app kept its unique style and original architecture.

In February 2009 the client was updated to the version 3.0, which took its final form in June of the same year. Except for a few details it has remained the same up to this day.

The Vkontakte Dots is noted for the characteristic minimalist design, which is in harmony with the overall style of the social network, as well as for its simple and convenient interface. All players have their own profiles with their statistics and the archive of games and can view the profiles of other users. The invitations to play are sent using the players list on the main page (before it was divided into several “rooms”: the game room, the “sandbox” for beginners and the tournament room, but now this division is absent). Games are always played under the settings of the invited player.

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The rules of the game are modern: without territory, with landing, the encirclement at the minimum path. The choice of debuts is limited to the empty field (with the initial area) or the single crossing in the center. You can choose the game with an extra move. The game fields are rectangular and vertically oriented. There are three standard sizes, the classic “exercise book”- style is not used. The game time consists of the renewable time for a move in seconds and the irreversibly used reserve in minutes. A player can make a request for a pause. There is no blitz with a random dot. The made move can’t be cancelled. The size and exterior of dots as well as the field design can’t be changed. The invitation to play, each move and the private messages are accompanied by the sounds.

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The rating system is based on Elo. A player can choose a rated or an unrated game. In addition, the players have the so-called “reputation” based on the marks that the opponents give to each other at the end of the game. The rating list displays only the best players. You can watch the games as a spectator, but the players can make their games private – inaccessible for the viewers. There is a viewer with a scroll slider for the moves to watch the archived games. The communication is carried out in a common, a game (with the possibility of blocking it for the audience) and a private chats. There is the blacklist, the selection of “favourite” players, the sorting of opponents by rating, the regime which allows remaining unseen in the application.

Of course, the Vkontakte Dots has not been an ideal client either now or in its prime. The developer’s counting on the maximum simplicity was quite logical for the purely amateur project; however it had a downside, which played an important role in its life in the long run. The visual flaws, such as the small scale of the playing field, the small and quite faded dots, the lack of exterior settings to correct all this, were not so important. But the serious functional problems caused by the initially established technical solutions were eventually fatal. The application did not have its own server, important information was kept by the social network and the moves were transferred using the functional of personal messages. It was simple and advantageous, but it worked normally only on minimal activity and required the constant monitoring from the creator. While the number of online users was low and Kolnogorov had enough time and patience to respond promptly to the complaints and to solve the problems, the client coped somehow. When the author moved on to other projects and the number of players increased considerably, the initial defects began to tell and made the play in the application a dubious pleasure.

board logic game dots oeuvreAt first, however, everything went well. By mid-2009 thousands of people installed the application. One-time online steadily increased and turned past a hundred players at its peak. The symbiosis of the game client and the social network provided a constant inflow of new users. Although most of them didn’t stay long, even those who remained were enough to keep up the game and, what was more important, the social activity. Players could almost always find an opponent for a game. The convenient chats of the application and the presence of the group in the social network gave the unlimited opportunities for communication to the most interested part of the community that used it with pleasure. A numerous and devoted community formed around the project fairly quickly. People began to come into the application out of habit, not so much for the game, but to have a good time in a pleasant company. Interest groups appeared: the players became friends, competed, flirted, plotted, fell in love, gossiped, argued, and created, playing dots in between. Related projects were created, such as, the "Points Oscar", the annual award with the numerous nominations. The application was throbbing with life, and a lot of players are still nostalgic for the unique atmosphere of that time.

board logic game dots homo sapiens neanderthalensisWe can’t but mention such a thing as “clonemaking”. It became a mass phenomenon in Kolnogorov’s application, presenting an integral part of the image of the whole project. “Clones” are the accounts in the social network with the fake names, created by the users to play incognito. As a rule, clonemaking was practiced mostly be the more or less strong players. They wanted to get a high rating again and to maintain a good statistics at the same time. In the course of time, the clones became so numerous that their discussion became the favorite fun for the application regulars: someone resented, someone used deduction, trying to identify the true owner of a new duplicate, and someone just had fun. Quite often, the owners of clones conducted the sessions of the self-exposure. For some players the clones became their main profiles and a kind of their original cards. Some fictional characters eventually turned into legends, such as, Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis – the most famous clone of the Vkontakte Dots (by the way, more than one person played under this name, but this secret, perhaps, should be kept). From the sports point of view the “clonemaking” was rather a problem that was basically acknowledged by the community. But in social terms the negative impact of this phenomenon was not so obvious because in one way or another it stirred up the interest in the game and communication.

board logic game dots vkontakte onlineActivity, however, was not limited to the sweet communication only. The progress in game skills was clearly obvious. The average skill level was quite low at first, but it grew fast. A lot of players, numerous games, a lot of opportunities to learn from other people’s and one’s own mistakes – all this favorably distinguished the Vkontakte Dots from other dots sites. Of course, the players from the Points XT made some contribution to the project development; however, it couldn’t be considered determinant or even sufficient. The representatives of the Points XT played in the application: someone for fun, someone for the top lines of the rating list or the tournaments prizes, someone for the propaganda of the only true dots teaching. However, they didn’t play much and were not good for the role of teachers. At best they could be the examiners. They did not hide their arrogant attitude to the new site, that surely caused dislike in return. Therefore, the development of the game community followed its own way. By trial and error, in hundreds of games and through thousands of lumps the regulars of the Vkontakte Dots slowly but surely gained experience and formed the unique game style. The best way to describe it in one word is probably “pragmatic”. On the Points XT the acute and dense mutual struggle was considered a good style. In their turn the players from Kolnogorov’s application mainly preferred the cautious style with the formation of the solid chains in debut. This made it possible to survive in a highly competitive environment, as well as to neutralize the difference in class from a few missionaries of the “Black Order”. The number of high-level players grew every month. New stars appeared. The best of “Crusaders” retained some superiority in skill for the time being, but the iconic arena hopelessly lost in the number of strong unyielding middle-level players. The laws of philosophy are undoubtedly inexorable: the quantity sooner or later turns into quality.

In the second half of 2009 the reverse colonization, let’s call it so, began. The strongest and most ambitious players from the Vkontakte Dots began to visit the Points XT, reviving a sleepy little world of luminaries resting on their laurels, and entering their names on the “dusty” lists. The difference was in the fact that they visited the site to learn, not to impose their own rules. This approach was the only right and it quickly gave excellent results. Training on the Vkontakte Dots and strengthening on the Points XT provided the whole generation of brilliant players, who often became awardees and winners of various tournaments. The best of them, Alexey Priymak, can be rightly considered one of the strongest players in history.

board logic game dots vkontakte reportIt’s a pity, but there was no happy ending for this fairy tale. In autumn of 2009, when the project was at its gaming and social peak, the technical discrepancy between the application’s resources and the increased load and requirements to the functional reliability showed in full. The client no longer coped with the processing and transfer of moves, the games braked, the players’ dots were recolored, the configuration of encirclements changed. The flow of complaints remained unanswered. Kolnogorov who had even earlier considered the work on the application a kind of hobby or a way to enrich his portfolio, finally switched over to other projects. For a long time the players could not believe that their little cozy world was doomed. It took several months of agony, accompanied by the streams of angry and desperate records in the application’s group, for the most dedicated members of the community to give up and to accept the inevitable. The nullification of ratings became the last drop that made the cup run over. It occurred for the first time at the end of 2009, and in the second half of 2010 it became regular. Kolnogorov’s belated attempts to solve the problems through the delegation of limited administrator rights to Vasily Novikov failed. Novikov could not change the situation basically. The manual correction of the effects of permanent failures was useless. The agony began. In fact, the application still functioned, but only rare newcomers and the fans of showing up at the top list (which, of course, degraded very quickly) dared to play there. This long-windedness, fading slowly, lasted for a couple of years. Then the Vkontakte Dots finally turned into the artifact.

Having lost the foundation the community dissolved fairly quickly. The most motivated players found shelter on the Points XT, someone entered a standby mode to wait for the new projects, while the most of the community, its golden center, were lost to dots once and for all. For the game development it was not even a step – it was a leap backwards. Dots were again locked within a small group of enthusiasts, who had no resources to remedy the situation, and no clear understanding of how to fix it at all. Kolosov’s disengagement did not inspire optimism as well. He refused, apparently, to return to amateurism. The organizing power went away taking the whole era in the history of dots in tow. The standstill began.

board logic game dots dmitriy telnyyMeanwhile, the memory of the most successful dots project remained alive. The dream of its revival was in the air. Therefore there was nothing surprising in the fact that the attempt to use the nostalgic feelings of the audience was made. September 15, 2012 the visitors of a new dots portal had the opportunity to look back into the past: the game client launched that day was almost a clone of Kolnogorov’s application. Dmitriy Telnyy became the author of the project known as “”. Perhaps it was the first purely commercial undertaking in the dots history: direct work was performed by the third-party specialists, Telnyy acted as a producer, demonstrating the serious comprehensive approach.

The extensive and high-quality content had been prepared for the portal. Firstly, there was the theoretical material presented in the form of a tutorial which generalized and systematized Telnyy’s personal game experience. Secondly, the content included the interviews with the famous players belonging to the different generations. But the main highlight of the site, of course, was the archive of games. In fact it was a collection of antiques, which contained a list of numerous games and the player to view them. There were the games from the Points XT, from four tournaments and the games from the Vkontakte Dots, given to Telnyy by Kolnogorov, who allowed Telnyy to use the structure and design of his application as well.

board logic game dots ios applicationThere’s no sense in describing the application which had almost no differences from the original. The only differences were, perhaps, the internal authorization with the nicknames and the division of the players list into a large number of rooms. The application was better from the technical point of view, because it wasn’t attached to the social network. It had its own server, which ensured the uninterrupted operation. The gaming and social functionality was not changed. The important feature of the project was the "Dots Online" mobile application for iOS launched May 3, 2012 which was promoted by the together with the application. The mobile app was an original product which interesting primarily for its design, stylized to the classic "paper" dots.

It’s only fair to mention that it was not the first experience in creating a client for playing dots on the mobile devices. January 30, 2011 Andrew Vyzhva published the information about the his program "Points Logical Mobile Game". It was available for all the phones and the PDAs which supported the MIDP 2.0, and allowed your connecting to the IRC server to view the games on the Points XT. This project did not go beyond the testing phase. Some information about it is available only in the web archive.

But let’s return to the As we see, a lot of efforts and resources were spent on this project. And it surely aroused a certain interest among the dots veterans. However, the popularity of this project couldn’t be compared with the Vkontakte Dots. It faded quickly. Why did it happen? There were several reasons. Firstly, the project appeared too late. Two years had passed, so the old community disintegrated and even a handful of unsinkable enthusiasts played on the new site. The copy of Kolnogorov’s application had no functional advantages over it. Secondly, the was an isolated application so it couldn’t expect the massive inflow of newcomers, which had been previously provided by the social network. And thirdly, the bet on the “nostalgy” did not win. People did not miss a set of pixels on the screen. They longed for the unique atmosphere of live communication, which was impossible to copy. The project could not create its own community, because it had almost no social functional.

board logic game dots to4ki.ruWe cannot say that Telnyy worked in vain. The portal, which still functions, made a great contribution to the dots popularization. The client was not quite empty when it still functioned. A small group of regulars formed there. The strong players from other sites sometimes came to play there. Perhaps, the could raise its own stars, as the Livegames managed to do with Chernobrovin, but the invisible hand of the market accomplished its dirty deed. The project concept did not work. It proved unprofitable, and, apparently, it could not endlessly take shelter on the PC of a devoted fanatic like the Points XT. December 18, 2014 the game server was disabled, and a call to play on the Vkontakte Dots appeared on the client’s page. It is difficult to say what the author actually meant, but in a detached view it looked more like a wicked irony.

The dots history came full circle.

Alexander Parfenov. April 21, 2016

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