"When people talk about serendipity, they’re not always talking about discovering something that’s totally brand-new. In fact, I’d haz ard that they’re USUALLY talk ing about randomly unearthing some thing that’s comforting and familiar. This is ten times more true with television."
"Shouldn’t games be an opportunity for players to wrap their heads around counter-intuitive truths?" Yes, they should.
“I’ve found that your chances for happiness are increased if you wind up doing something that is a reflection of what you loved most when you were somewhere between nine and eleven years old. At that age, you know enough of the world to have opinions about things, but you’re not old enough yet to be overly influenced by the crowd or by what other people are doing or what you think you “should” be doing. If what you do later on ties into that reservoir in some way, then you are nurturing some essential part of yourself.” And now, I love Walter Murch even more.
Depicted as a grid by artist Susan Wolf; to circumvent the large number of languages spoken in Joburg, taxi drivers have official hand signals to take you from A to B. This PDF shows all of them. (via Bobulate)
"…hard-core players are comfortable mentally manipulating Peggle's complex physics. They can build models about where the ball is going to go, even after the seventh or eight collision. A frustrated casual gamer looks at Peggle and sees chaos; a hard-core one sees causality." Oh – now that _is_ an interesting way to look at things.
This is great: a 25-minute video from Blurst looking at a short prototype they built. During the retrospective, other members of the team question the designers/developers about their intentions, their goals, and examine ways to make the prototype into a better game. There's some good questioning, some nice explanation, and it's a great insight into a process built around rapid prototyping and execution on top of Unity. Interesting to see how another company work on rapid prototypes and then try to "find the fun". Also: making the prototype public is another great piece of explanatory work.
Lovely interview with Dylan Cuthbert, of Pixeljunk, about some of the design processes behind the Pixeljunk games.
"A frequent question people ask us is “how do I transfer my database between my local workstation and my Heroku app?”" The answer is: using taps. Database push/pull, to/from Heroku, and to/from different database vendors. Very, very clever.
27 January 2009
There’s a consistent theme to all these old-school game introductions: almost without exception, I have been mortified by the pathetic game that I’ve excitedly brought to the kids.
I don’t really agree with him.
For a more considered take on Candyland’s many failings (as well as successes), it’s worth reading this Play This Thing post (and, if you’re not aware of Candyland – it’s very much an American game – the Wikipedia page might prove useful).
I think Greg Costikyan’s Play This Thing post is a better judgment on the game. Namely: judged on its game mechanics, Candyland is a terrible game. But: games are about more than mechanics, and the things we learn from games are about more than games.
Candyland is a great first game; literally, the very first. It teaches turn-taking. It teaches the mores, the manners, the culture of playing boardgames. Later, when a child comes to a game where the rules are more complex, the turn process more intricate, the customs of gameplay are already learned; rather than focusing on learning the social interactions, they can focus on the complexity of the game itself.
And I’m totally fine with the idea of a game to teach you how to play games. After all, there are loads of games that teach you all manner of things; what’s wrong with the ideal of the first one teaching you about the medium itself?
Johnson also has a problem with games of chance – specifically, of total chance. And, he’s right, Candyland is such a game. But few games of total chance really are.
Consider Battleships, which he’s also not a fan of. Battleships begins with randomness: working out where to place your first shot. But the second the result of that hit is revealed, the game stops being random. As the locations of enemy ships are uncovered (or not), state emerges from the board, and you start exercising logic, and knowledge of the game rules, rather than firing totally into the dark. That, right there, is the game; the only truly random shot is the first one. .
In that sense, it’s not that far away from Go, a game where I dread the opening moves. There are 361 places to place a piece, and I know that I’m likely to be punished much later on for a bad opening. And yet: because my skill at the game is so low, the opening feels random to me. A skilled player will likely tell you it’s anything but.
In addition to “most games of chance aren’t“, let’s add “if it appears to be random, you might not understand the system as well as you think you do“.
The big difference between even the simplest videogame and the boardgames he describes is that the videogame keeps its mechanics to itself. The first thing that falls out of the box of a boardgame is the rulebook – the entire system of the game.
When you open a videogame, the first thing that falls out is the manual. It tells you the goals of the game, explains how to interact, sets you up with the world, but it hides the rules themselves.
And so the first move in any game is starting to infer the rules, and deduce the logic behind the system. In Super Mario Bros., you know that you have to rescue the princess – the goal is made clear upfront, in the game and in the manual. But the rules of the system aren’t. And so, using only “run” and “jump” (to begin with), you start to work out what you should and shouldn’t do, what the shortcuts to success are, what enemies are dangerous and when, and by doing all this you slowly build up a picture of the rules.
I enjoy Johnson’s writing a great deal, but in this case, I think his argument is flawed. Much as he does in Everything Bad Is Good For You, he takes a few shortcuts in his judgments upon the sophistication of (a) culture. I think the problem here is that he’s mistaking a kind of sophistication that videogames specialise in for a failing of boardgames (and particularly boardgames aimed at the very young). I don’t think Johnson puts forward a very fair argument, and I think that the holes in his argument are as significant as the points he makes.
"And if there was a "prize" in this lottery, it was not so much the object itself, but the letter and the awesome mysteries of unfathomable spiritual connections, and the very gesture itself from this dear, dear person and the timing!" What a story.