• "YOU CAN ONLY WORK FOR PEOPLE THAT YOU LIKE… I discovered that all the work I had done that was meaningful and significant came out of an affectionate relationship with a client. And I am not talking about professionalism; I am talking about affection. I am talking about a client and you sharing some common ground. That in fact your view of life is someway congruent with the client, otherwise it is a bitter and hopeless struggle." All of Milton Glaser's points are worth thinking on, but this one feels particularly acute.
  • "So there seems to have developed a general consensus in the iPhone development community that if you’re planning to develop a sprite-based game, the cocos2d-iphone framework that we mentioned waaaaaay back when and a bit later on is the way to go. So since we’re planning on doing exactly that, here’s a roundup of resources for your cocos2d development!"
  • "Here’s a round-up of the top 10 readily-available monospace fonts for your coding enjoyment, with descriptions, visual examples and samples, and download links for each." I think I roughly agree with Dan on these.
  • "Get over your ridiculous programming-language prejudices and stop endorsing real prejudices. It's this crazy little microcosm/macrocosm mirror effect. You never find bigotry in people with options. It's true in programming and it's true in real life as well, and it looks as if it's true in both places at the same time and for the same people." Giles is right, and the idiots who reached for their retweet button are definitely wrong. Less of this, please.
  • "No. That would be your mother." Valve drop the next "Meet The…" video, and it's perhaps the best yet – certainly in terms of editing and choreography. And I love how the other characters – especially the Soldier – are still being developed in this.
  • "This is a mod. And that’s kind of relevant, for two reasons. Firstly, we don’t want to pay for this kind of thing. Hell, look at The Path: people are upset that even exists, let alone that its developers had the guts to charge seven quid for their remarkable efforts. But this is the sort of thing I’d love to pay for. It seems illogical that we’ll all happily splash out fifty pounds for the same old story of science-fiction revenge, yet aggressively avoid anything that encourages us to engage our brains and challenge ourselves a little."
  • "What’s fascinating about Grifball is how well it emulates a sport (or rather a sport game.) Like basketball or hockey, players must alternately think offensively and defensively as the bomb changes possession. Movement suddenly trumps aiming, as players must gauge distance for successful attacks and create openings to score. The best players are the ones who can move in tricky, unpredictable ways and psych out their opponents. In terms of skill and strategy, Grifball has much more in common with virtual rugby than it does a shooter." Matthew Gallant on Grifball, and more forms of consensual play.
  • "In the 14 months since [TeamFortress 2] shipped, the PC version of the game has seen 63 updates – “that’s the frequency you want to be providing updates to your customers,” [Newell] adds. “You want to say, ‘We’ll get back to you every week. The degree to which you can engage your customer base in creating value for your other players” is key, says Newell. “When people say interesting or intelligent things about your product, it will translate directly into incremental revenue for the content provider.”" Great write-up from Chris Remo of Gabe Newell's DICE talk.
  • "This is a sort of thorough, empirical, sociological study of art students at two British art schools at a very interesting moment, the late 1960s (a moment when, as the book says, anti-art became the approved art, bringing all sorts of paradoxes to the fore). I find it fascinating that such a subjective thing as developing an art practice can be studied so objectively, but then I find it amazing that art can be taught at all. The book shows the tutors and students circling each other with wariness, coolness, misunderstanding, despair, appreciation." Some great anecdotes and observation.
  • "Busker Du (dial-up) is a recording service for buskers through the telephone (preferably public payphones hidden in subway stations). Audio recorded will be posted to this audio-blog and made available to all who cherish lo-fi original music. Try it out at your favorite subway station or street corner." Dial-A-Song comes full circle.
  • "Poole – HAL 9000 is a fictional chess game in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the movie, the astronaut Frank Poole is seen playing chess with the HAL 9000 supercomputer… The director Stanley Kubrick was a passionate chess player, so unlike many chess scenes shown in other films, the position and analysis actually makes sense. The actual game seems to come from Roesch – Schlage, Hamburg 1910, a tournament game between two lesser-known masters."
  • Lovely demo – some interesting interfaces that feel quicker than current alternatives, as well as experimental ones that, whilst slower and clumsier, represent information a bit better. I mainly like the form-factor, though – but what's the unit cost? These things get a lot better the more you have.
  • "Something like: Trying to create a reading list that gives the best introduction to everything. This may change." Phil is trying to collect the Good Books in many fields. It's an interesting project, for sure; it'll also be interesting to see how it pans out.
  • I was a little excited from the ongoing Offworld love in, but Oli Welsh's review suddenly makes me insanely excited about Keita Takahashi's new plaything. Why is it that all the reasons for me wanting a £300 PS3 are £3 PSN titles?
  • "…the biggest consequence [of a universal micro-USB adaptor] will be the ease of transferring data/content from street service provider to consumer, and consumer to consumer… There is a place at the edges of the internet where the level of friction makes content and data grind to a halt. It's largely unregulated. And it just got seriously lubed."
  • "30 Second Hero is an action RPG which consists of really short battles that require no interaction, as players race against the clock to save the kingdom from an evil wizard's wrath. As indicated by the title, you only have thirty seconds to level up your character sufficiently for the final battle, although additional time can be bought from the castle at the cost of a hundred gold pieces per increment of ten seconds." Hectic; the entire early JRPG genre (FF1, et al) condensed into a minute-long rush. Grinding as poetry.
  • "I was convinced that it was a spoof. As if there’d be a genre called Donk. Everything is wrong about the video. The knowing subtitles over subtle Northern Accents. The presenter’s slight grin when he’s chatting to folk. The funnily named shops. Everything. There’s no way I’m falling for a prank like that. It reminds me heavily of the episode of Brass Eye where they whang on about Cake (the made up drug). And all the characters and the interviews look like they could be setups or clever edits." But no, it's real. Iain Tait discovers Donk.
  • "…with that sad note from Sarinee Achavanuntakul, one of the most enduring (if illegal) tributes to gaming history came to an end." Home of the Underdogs is no more; just gone, like that. It wasn't that it had the best games or the worst games, or that they were illegal, or free; it was history, and childhood, and the smell of cardboard and boot disks, all wrapped up in one giant cathedral to Good Old Games. Most things I played on my old DOS machine were there. A shame; I hope they're elsewhere. This is why we need proper game archives.
  • Tweaking a game five months after launch to make it both more playable, and also more realistic; understanding that realism is key to NHL09 fans, and delivering on that as an ongoing promise.
  • "Warcraft’s success has always been substantially due to the extraordinary physicality of Azeroth, to the real sense of land transversed, of caves discovered, and of secrets shared. Players old and new bemoan the endless trudging that low-level travel requires, but it’s crucial for binding you to the world." Yes. Despite QuestHelper, I'm always in awe of the new areas. I just wish more people were playing the game as slowly and badly as me. Another beautiful One More Go, and one that resonates a lot right now.

This Gaming Life (cover)

One of the books I read on my holiday in Pembrokeshire was Jim Rossignol‘s This Gaming Life. I’d been meaning to get around to it for quite a while, and finally did so once it was revealed that the (beautiful) hardback edition was nearly at the end of its print run.

It’s an interesting book, if perhaps somewhat flawed. This Gaming Life is games writing filtered through the lens of travel writing; the “three cities” of the title being London, Seoul, and Rekjavik. “London” feels a little weak, and disjointed; the focus on Splash Damage is reasonably strong, but is perhaps not connected enough horizontally. It is also a reminder of the book’s strong leaning (understandably, given Rossignol’s expertise) towards PC gaming. As a result, certain PC-centric aspects of games such as modding cultures are praised perhaps a tad more highly than I think is reasonably within the bounds the text sets itself.

Seoul is more interesting, if only because it’s much more alien to most readers. There’s some strong insights and good anecdotes here, and it stands alongside Rossignol’s original PC Gamer article on gaming in Korea well (available in PDF form here).

The strongest section of the book is the final half, which is set in Rekjavik and focuses on CCP and their massive online game EVE Online. Rossignol is well versed in EVE and a keen player of the game, and it really shows – there are so many good stories, personal anecdotes combined with objective criticism, that the book leaps to life in this section. Part of me would love to have seen the other two thirds as long, and as strong, as this; the other part of me would love to see Rossignol just drop 300 pages on EVE, because it’s obvious he could, and it’d be an essential piece of criticism and historiography. Maybe that’s on the way.

But, despite its flaws and occasional ponderous prose, I really liked the book. There’s lots of good stuff in here, and I was pleased with the notes I came away with (see below).

It feels a little out of place in a book so fixated on PC gaming, but the “playlist” Rossignol provides at the end of the book is fantastic: a list of games that, whilst obviously never going to be conclusive, represent a good way into games for the uninformed. His selection is strong, and his writing about each of the titles is joyful and unpretentious; most of them require either a PS2 or a PC, and I can hardly argue about many. It’s nice that it’s there, even if only as a reminder, at the end of the book, that all the writing in the world won’t matter if you don’t play the damn things.

Most of all, though, I’m just glad books like this can exist. It’s published through the MIT Press University of Michigan, and I really hope it sets the scene for more writing on games like this. It’s grown-up, personal but not gonzo, multi-disciplinary and prefers rational, informed, and sometimes unresolved discussion over snap judgments and pithy soundbites. This, to my mind, is a format that suits games writing (not just criticism) incredibly well, and I hope that UMICH Press (and their competitors) seek to comission and publish more work like this, because it’s important that games starts to establish a second-order culture of criticism as well as a first-order culture of play.

I feel like I’m being harsh on the book earlier, but really, that’s just because it’s an early entry in this space, and it’s for that it needs to be praised. I have no doubt that Rossignol has even more – and even better – writing to come, and I’m looking forward to it eagerly. In conclusion: definitely recommended, but with what I think are reasonable reservations. Also, the less-well versed you are in some of the topics he discusses, the more essential a purchase I think it might be; perhaps my reservations are coming from someone too deep inside the topics he discusses.

As is traditional in such threads, here come the quotations that I found, for whatever reason, worth turning a corner over near:

p.30, on boredom:

“use of the term boredom has increased ceaselessly since the eighteenth century. It cannot be found in English before 1760, and although [Lars] Svendsen notes that some European languages came up with equivalent words in the centuries before, they were generally derivations of the Latin for “hate” and carried similar meanings”

p.43, on some of the motivations for writing the book:

“My travels had begun to reveal that almost all writing and reporting concerned with gaming overlooked what the experience of gaming had meant to the gamers themselves. There was some talk about the intellectual or cognitive experience, but how games slotted into different lives and how they changed perceptions and agendas was being ignored”

p.52, Leo Tan talking about playing Guitar Hero at the Donnington Rock Festival:

“…playing Guitar Hero on stage is a completely different experience to playing at home. At home, you might feel like a guitar god; but on stage, people are screaming, and when you come off, they swamp to the sides to try to talk to you. It’s exhilarating in a way that I’ll never experience elsewhere. And it was a game. And everyone knew it was a game.”

p.73, on televised pro gaming:

“gaming remains and awkward spectator sport. It’s an interesting avenue of possibility for a small clique of gamers, perhaps; but the low number of people who watch video games played by the pros outside Korea suggest that the most important aspect of gaming is its interactivity. I’ve seldom been as bored as I have been watching pro gaming tournaments, especially when they’re for a game I’m actually interested in playing. For these reasons, I believe that Korea’s televised Star-leagues reflect a cultural singularity within Korea, not an indication of where global gaming will go in the future.”

p.76, on the real-world communities and companionships forged through online gaming:

“Thanks to games, [Lee] In Sook [a high-level Lineage II player]’s circle of friends had ended up talking, becoming close, and then making sure that they hung out at the same caf├ęs to play at the game games. Online games create shared experiences that are unlike those we might have in the real world. This is a quality of the medium itself – players who might not excel in conversation might feel confident in text chat.”

p.77, on the nature of those communities forged within games:

“Online games are usually far more like teeming cosmopolitan cities than stable provincial communities: the mix of people is enormously diverse, and you often find yourself being ignored by passersby or even accosted with unsettling propositions. You aren’t sure who to trust, and many gamers will depend on previous acquaintances or real-world friendships as the basis for in-game socializing.”

p79:

“Games stand to change not simply individual imaginations or personal finances but the possibilities for interaction and socialization across our different cultures. This is no grand cultural revolution: it is a subtle wave, a gradual tectonic shift in the way we live, which will only make its true effects known over the course of many years… chasing headlines that read ‘Games Are The New Sport’ or ‘Kids Who Play Games For A Living’ makes a crude statement about what really matters within gaming. The important changes will come from those smaller ripples that change how millions of people live, think, and socialize on a daily basis, not just the hard-core niches.”

p.93, on how games manipulate and inspire our imaginations:

“The in-game slaughter of the attendees of a funeral held for a deceased World of Warcraft player presented a case of quite spectacular insensitivity. It revealed a significant swathe of gamers who radically failed to sympathize with their fellow gamers, treating them as little more than moving targets and ignoring the real-life tragedy they were trampling on. Perhaps, however, they were simply acting within the narrative conventions that the game delivered to them. Their game belonged firmly within the genre of bad guys versus good, and they played the bad guys. Had it been a game about tragedy and human loss, the gamers’ responses and actions might have taken on quite a different character.”

p.100, quoting Kieron Gillen on simulation:

“‘Battlefield 2 presents a beleaguered United States in a war that is more cowboys and Indians than anything else, while Operation Flashpoint reaches for something more akin to a comment on the nature of war using theoretical examples’… as Gillen observes, ‘simulation is expression'”

p.102, leading into discussion of Luis von Ahn and his ESP game:

“Game creators don’t have to speak to gamers at all, nor do they necessarily have to persuade them of anything. It is simply by letting gamers get on with playing that they really begin to change the world. To me, this idea is one that seems far more radical than molding games into old-fashioned propaganda: it is the notion of using games for the purposes of ‘human computing'”

p.106, on one kind of propaganda present in games:

“The danger of games, [Chris] Suellentrop suggests, is that they teach us that success means discovering and then following the rules – a deeper genre of propaganda. If he’s right, then the ever-growing millions of obsessed gamers could eventually be playing their way into a new and subtle kind of oppression, something far more worrying than finding their ‘wasted cycles’ put to use in the technology of a major corporation’s search engine.”

p.145, on “use models”:

“Will Wright observed that unless you actually play games, it’s hard to judge what is happening to a gamer. ‘Watching someone play a game is a different experience than actually holding the controller and playing it yourself. Vastly different. Imagine that all you knew about movies was gleaned through observing the audience in a theatre – but you had never watched a film. You would conclude that movies induce lethargy and junk food binges. That maybe true, but you’re missing the big picture.'(Wired, April 2006)”

p.147, more Will Wright (from a conversation with Brian Eno):

“When we do these computer models, those aren’t the real models; the real models are in the gamer’s head. The computer game is just a compiler for that mental model in the player. We have this ability as humans to build these fairly elaborate models in our imaginations, and the process of play is the process of pushing against reality, building a model, refining a model by looking at the results of looking at interacting with things.”

p.150, applying Wright’s model to EVE Online:

EVE is a shared mental model in the heads of both thousands of gamers and dozens of developers, with a process of feedback moving cyclically between all those involved. The mental model is not htat of one person engaging with a singl emodel on a personal screen, but a picture comprised of tens of thousands impressions of the same model… [EVE] is a single collaborative imaginative enterprise that exists in real time… those who have had time [to sink into playing and exploring EVE] have begun to uncover something remarkable and one of the possible future directions for gaming: entertainment that is also massive collaboration.”

p.170, on LittleBigPlanet (which, at the time of writing, was still in production). I particularly liked this simple turn of phrase:

LittleBigPlanet presents games as malleable, communicable objects, built for gamers to customize and distort as they see fit.”

Communicable objects” seems about right.

p.171, on Tringo:

Tringo had become a leaky object: moving between physical and virtual realities seamlessly. It was a virtual entity that had become a physcial product, while still making money within a virtual world.”

Again, “leaky object” is very good.

p.181, quoting Julian Dibbell:

“Dibbell makes a powerful case for the contemporary social and political importance of virtual interactions, as well as summing up something about thei weird, hybrid nature as both games and monetary systems: ‘Games attract us with their very lack of consequence,’ Dibbell wrote in Wired magazine, ‘wheras economies confront us with the least trivial pursuit of all, the pursuit of happiness.”

p.183, on the shape of online gaming groups such as clans or guilds:

“…it seems that they are becoming more like actual communities or tribes. Like entertainment-seeking nomads, they move from one game to the next. If the future of games ends up being focused on user-generated works, then we will probably join projects because we like gaming with particular people we have met elsewhere. We might like the look of what they are making or how they are influencing the game world they plkay in, but it’ll be the gmaers themselves that reinforce our commitment or define how our gaming is experienced.”

p.192, on what might be described as the journalist’s dilemma:

“I am caught between my personal interest in the games and the gamers who play them, on the one hand, and the billion-dollar business machine for which I have become a regular mouthpiece, on the other. I am troubled by the idea that games have to have some greater purpose than entertainment, and yet I am enthralled by the idea that they cabn be used as propaganda, art, or medicine. I want to spend all my time exploring the peculiar physics of a new game world, and yet I am compelled to write about and describe it for money.”