Bot that buys dirt-cheap goods on TradeMe and tells Twitter what it's buying/bidding on. Seems we need a Rule 38: if software is described in an XKCD comic, the chance of it being brought into reality approaches 1 as t approahces infinity.
"…the game of chess is much more than the set of instructions needed to move the pieces on the board: the players’ intellectual and emotional interaction during a game is also the system of chess. The media hubbub surrounding Kasparov’s loss to Deep Blue: that is chess. The southwest corner of Washington Square Park where New York City players wager, talk trash, and square off across stone tables: that is chess too." So much good stuff in this essay from Frank Lantz and Eric Zimmerman
In which Laura Parker looks at what "mainstream" games can learn from the type of success indie titles such as Limbo have had, with contributions from Nels Anderson, Manveer Heir, and – would you believe it – me. It's a really nice feature; I hope Laura can get more of this sort of stuff published on Gamespot, because it deserves a bigger audience than being buried on the staff blog.
"Raise a glass of something, then, to celebrate how Harmonix lived, not how they died. It was a magnificent run, filled with some of the greatest games ever made. I don't think any other gaming company ever made so much sheer fun in such a short span of time." I desperately hope there's a happy end to this, somehow.
As recommended by John Gruber: replaces video flash with HTML5 equivalents in Safari. Nice.
"'…consciousness enables us to make conjectures in which someone called “I” can be seen in a hypothetical situation or a story; and from that flows the ability to make judgements, plans, decisions. In short, consciousness takes the vastness of the physical world, whose coordinates of time and space we cannot really grasp, and gives us a model, a working version – a simplified, toy version if you prefer – in which we can more usefully and successfully operate.’" Seeing the "I" in the world, as a way of making things understandable.
"HyperDock adds long awaited features to your Dock: Select single application windows just by moving the mouse on a dock item, use mouse clicks to quickly open new windows and many more." Nifty.
"Too many times proponents of interactive fiction talk as if it’s a new thing, as if interactivity were never part of the reading experience. How many of us has written in the margin of a book, turned down a corner of a page or smoothed the book back at a particular passage, felt our attention wander as we gaze out the window? We each interpret a story in different ways; it’s how we can re-read a book without getting bored, or watch the same film twice." This is cracking stuff from Kat; I am glad she's written it down.
04 November 2010
There was a reason I wrote a piece of fanfiction based on a game that boils down to a spreadsheet.
Game Dev Story is interesting, for me, because, when you take it apart: there’s almost no Story within the game. It’s just a mechanical engine for simulating a games company (and not even that sophisticated an engine). People work; numbers go up; games either sell or don’t, with sales figures rarely correlating to review scores.
But where’s the story?
There’s a loose theme, sure, with a defined arc: start small, grow into a bigger company by selling more games. There’s almost no writing; what there is is weakly translated, rammed into a line or two of the lazy port. There’s a lot of Devving of Games, but, in the code that executes, there’s relatively little Story to speak of. Just numbers, going up, or down.
Every now and then, the game asks you to type something in: the name of your company, the name of a game. And that’s where the magic begins.
In that little flight of creativity, the game opens up: the player starts writing their own story. The player isn’t just typing names into boxes. They’re saying the words aloud in your head – and that conjures images of box-art, screengrabs, scathing magazine reviews; cardboard standees packed full of buggy, terrible, detective puzzle games, waiting to be flogged.
Sometimes, the companies we invent ring true. Gnarly Games, though named as a pastiche of Visceral, turned out to become a strange mix of From Software and Konami, through their constant return to dour mecha-games and campy vampire nonsense. Their greatest success was, essentially, a Castlevania MMO. Or rather: that’s what I saw in my head. A goofy name, combined with two drop-down fields defining the type of game, led to a moment of wishful, what-if? thinking.
Sometimes, we just give things rude names for the fun of it. But so often that’s a joke that keeps on giving. As the eager secretary tells you again of the wild sales figures for Buggy Shit!! 3, it’s hard not to raise a smile.
The stories you end up telling yourself are surprisingly complex, too. The rise and fall of little companies, kept down by absurd devkit costs and the inability to shift enough units on consoles with dwindling popularity; the companies that held on to founding staff as totems too long, rather than hiring the staff they need; the companies that failed to diversify out of the genre they first found success in. All that is in your head; all the game presents is numbers and loose encouragement.
Game Dev Story exemplifies a kind of mechanical storytelling: stories told not through text or voice-acting, but through coherent systems that cannot help but generate stories. I’m not waving my hands in my air here and making an excuse – “Oh, it has emergent narrative“; my point is that, in good mechanical storytelling, narrative cannot help but emerge. It’s designed into the system.
Such systems are shaped to tell tales of lower-tier football teams, or the survivors of a zombie apocalypse, or mercenaries in Africa, or little companies trying to make videogames. Experiences you play, and feel, and believe, because you’re as much a part of the telling as the machine throwing its myriad D20s.
And, for all its lazy porting, weak writing, and repetitive formula, that is something Game Dev Story does remarkably well. It turns out that it’s not a story in itself. It’s a tool to help players tell thousands of stories. Telling your own stories about running a games company – through the medium of tapping on icons, and waiting – is far more compelling than any description could make out.
It’s a tool to help you do something. That notion led to the thought that mechanically-realised stories – the kind that movies can’t really ever tell, and the kind that games are invariably best at – are a kind of narrative exoskeleton.
Exoskeletons can do two things. Firstly, they can enhance your own abilities: they make you better at something you can already do – faster at running, stronger at lifting. And secondly, they can give you superpowers: things you could never do yourself – such as flying, or breathing in a vacuum, or surviving intense heat.
The best narrative exoskeletons do a bit of both. Off the top of my head: Left 4 Dead; Far Cry 2; Championship Manager; MUD; Acquire; Illuminati!; Werewolf; almost any tabletop RPG. Stories are baked into systems, but told through the by – and through – the players operating within them. Sometimes, we bring our own stories and personalities to the table, and the system amplifies them – the individual relationships between each player in a Left 4 Dead game add as much to their realisation as the characterisation in the script. Sometimes, those systems allow us to do things we could never do: they kill off characters we were too fond of; they force us to move out of our comfort zones; they have a grace of language or performance that we might be unable to attain.
I’m fed up of talking about stories in games (and I say that as someone who has loved many narrative-heavy, densely-plotted titles). Games are much more effective – and interesting – as tools for delivering stories, and, given that players will find their own stories anyway, why not build interesting systems that will shape their tales in exciting and unexpected ways?
Why not build story-telling engines, and narrative exoskeletons?
And that’s why I like Game Dev Story so much: for a game with so little of what most games would call “story” in it, it turns out to live up to the promise of its name in so many ways.
Kars on games, cities, and biology. Lovely. And: he's exploring game-design for *pigs*, which makes me impossibly excited.
"The jQuery Cycle Plugin is a slideshow plugin that supports many different types of transition effects. It supports pause-on-hover, auto-stop, auto-fit, before/after callbacks, click triggers and much more." It's efficient and well-documented, too. Thumbs up.
"Over on a forum called teamliquid, a user by the name of Lomilar posted a fairly long thread about a program he had written that optimized build orders for the zerg race in starcraft. He eventually cleaned up his code and posted the code to googlecode. The program is called EvolutionChamber (a clever name, as it’s the name of one of the buildings in the game), and it uses genetic algorithms to find build orders. This I had to see." Great analysis of EvolutionChamber. Super-interesting, too, as a concept.
"I think the appeal lies in the keys moving “on their own,” and in the fact that it is in the guise of a familiar object." Nice little project – self-typing typewriter that plays Zork.
This is a really nice article on using vim as your primary editor. Also: I like the way subheads appear in the margin when they're off-screen.