A couple of days later than planned, a beta version of the new Perplex City site has been launched, with a rather wider remit than the original. Essentially, it's a much more general-interest puzzle site than the old Perplex City game was, and probably stronger as a result. There is still the aspect of "buy cards and solve cards to earn points" to it, as there ever was, but you can earn small points at no cost by solving their daily puzzle, which will be one of the apparently ~4,000 puzzles they have for free on the site. You can view and solve these 4,000 puzzles online at any time for no charge. The majority of them are your Japanese standards (Sudoku, Kakuro, Hitori, Bacarba which I know better as "Easy as ABC", Ponturu and Cidouri). So far, so Nikoli. The applets don't have the best UI, but I quite like the way the UI has convenient links for "Easier examples", "Harder examples" and "More of the same", which deserves to become best-of-breed.
More interestingly, you have lots of fun maths problems, some reasonably inventive codes and ciphers and some not-very-inspired "odd one out"s and arithmetic problems where you have to apply general knowledge to get the numbers on which you operate. The "wordplay" section has some pretty standard stuff, though some of their Rebuses are rather cute. The "Eye Candy" section is probably the most interesting: some cute mazes (rather hurt by their multiple-choice answer submission interface...), some optical illusions, sliding toy puzzles and picture puzzles. My standard line is that I think people would probably get more out of a good puzzle book than out of playing Perplex City, but browsing the site gives you a decent (though not yet any better than decent, I would say) selection of puzzles at no cost. The difficulty is definitely pleasingly accessible at the lower end of the spectrum; coming up with interesting simple problems is often harder than interesting hard ones, and I think there's recognition that there need to be fewer barriers to entry and there's a potential junior market to be tapped.
My favourite puzzle so far is this one, though it's more cute than hard. Some of the puzzle proof-reading is below what you would hope for as a professional standard, though; today's 25-point daily puzzle was this one, which I would have rejected on three counts had I been the editor. One more bug with the site: solve a puzzle before it becomes the points-scoring daily puzzle and you seem to have forfeited your chance to solve it and score points from it on the one day it's actually worth anything. (On the other hand, the site has only been on its current form for two days, so I'm prepared to call it a teething problem.)
There will still be the ongoing story aspect to things, though this has been put to one side; it's now one of six puzzle "channels", and it's not set to kick in for another month or two. It looks like there will be several short trails to follow rather than one giant one, which I suspect is a wise move in terms of letting people play the story-following, story-cracking process for themselves rather than having one overarching story for the community at large to crack. (However, I imagine there probably will be at least one story deliberately so difficult that it is designed to be figured out only through a collaborative effort, because there clearly is a chunk of the market who likes that sort of thing, even though there are many other chunks who may not.)
As is probably predictable, the most interesting stuff isn't directly up there, it's elsewhere in the community. For instance, someone has managed to solve the crucial part of the location-discernment cube-finding puzzle the way it was intended; a series of running codes through the fourth wave of cards gives a message which hints at the location, plus there were other hints in the "Library of Babel" web site which do confirm things and hint at the location if you know how to interpret them. I regard it as somewhat a cooked puzzle that people didn't get all the intended clues before the puzzle was actually solved, though, alas, but there's still a great deal to admire in the design.
There were moderated online chats with the Season 1 winner and the design team over the last two days; the latter gets particularly interesting towards the end when Mind Candy let their guard drop a little and talk generalities. For instance, we learn that season 2 won't have a grand prize in the style of season 1, which makes the cards rather less attractive for marginal potential players in my book. Adrian Hon says "I would like to think that most people play because they enjoy the game and the story, not because of the prize", which to me is the sort of assumption about your market on which a product might live or die. On the other hand, he knows his market far better than I do, and it's not as if there isn't a massive market for trading cards in all sorts of other genres without any prize other than that of completion of a collection if you care for it or occasional interesting rare cards. There's also more information about the Mind Candy business model; if they are getting and turning down approaches from other companies to run stand-alone ARGs, then the business is safe even if PXC season 2 turns out to be a commercial failure. It also explains why they are looking to hire ARG producers, and it's good that they recognise that the next development is ARGs with lower barriers to entry.
These last developments, more than anything else (even the way the season two site has turned out so far) give me hope for the future that Mind Candy and Perplex City might just be around for the longer term, though they realise that they probably haven't hit the right model yet. I'm probably not going to devote that much attention to it, almost certainly not money to it, but the Perplex City player community appears to me to be one of the most interesting developments in massively co-operative games today.
ETA: Stone the crows, the Perplex City Season 1 winner is only on LJ - about which I probably shouldn't be surprised, but nevertheless I am - and is even already a /friendsfriend via angiej. Given that he has three prominent HP fanfic authors beFriended, this explains why I was surprised to see a previous passing reference of his to (PXC in-game characters) Kurt and Violet's "great and t00bie love" and had wondered why argot was chasing me around from fandom to fandom. Right, that's that cleared up then.