• "Winning and losing are only defined in their relation to us. Their meaning doesn’t come from an abstract ideal that is buried in the rules of the game, but from our experiences in life, such as witnessing war; or watching Garry Kasparov’s erratic behavior during his matches with Deep Blue; or having once won the emotionally fractured heart of the blonde from class, only to have it crumble in my hands. A game like chess is meaningful because it comments on our wider view on culture—not because placing pieces in a certain position leads to an endgame." On the battle between the logic of systems and the illogic of meanings. Useful food for thought right now.
  • "We are making a model of how a product is, to the degree that we can in video. We subject it to as much rigour as we can in terms of the material and technological capabilities we think can be built.

    It must not be magic, or else it won’t feel real.

    I guess I’m saying sufficiently-advanced technology should be distinguishable from magic." This is a lovely pulling-together of things from Matt J, and really manages to express the notions of "physics" and "rulesets" that I always enjoyed so much.

  • "Zugzwang is one of my favourite words, and an extremely useful one. Essentially, it's a condition where it would be better not to move, in a game where you have to move, such as chess. Strictly speaking, it describes a situation where that move will end the game, with the mover as the loser, but the definition in chess is looser, and only demands the loss of a piece or the worsening of the player's position. The player has to take the least worst option. It's a kind of judo – using the ineluctable forward momentum of the rules of the game to force the opposing player to do your work for you." The momentum of rules! I like that a lot.

Things Rules Do

27 January 2011

The video of my talk from Interesting North is now online. Well, they beat me to finishing my transcript – which didn’t include the adlibs and diversions anyway.

Things Rules Do is twenty minutes that looks at games of all forms, and the rules and systems that make their skeleton. It’s about the weird things that rules can do, beyond “tell you how to play”, such as inspire mastery, encourage deviance, and tell stories. It was written for a general, interested audience – not specifically for gamers – and covers a few topics close to my heart. You might like it.

And, of course – thanks to Tim and the team for their work in getting this online.

  • 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.
  • "This is what the next generation of the mega-selling phone will look like. They'll be rough facsimiles of the high-end smartphones forged for well-heeled buyers, stripped of fat and excess—an embodiment of compromise. They'll be 90% of the phone for 20% of the price, with FM radios instead of digital music stores, and flashlights instead of LED flashes. This is how the other half will smartphone, if you want to be so generous as to call the developing world's users a half. We're not even close." Yes.
  • "Sahel Sounds rounded up music salvaged from the discarded mobile phone memory chips in West Africa." Wow; the after-life of dead electronic media made real.
  • "Board games are different. Sure, while you might love a board game for the sense of immersion it provides, or the way the game lifts off the table and fills the room, you also might love it for how beautiful the mechanics are. It’s like looking inside a clockwork watch. That fascination, as you see how all the pieces fit together, how everything is timed to perfection, how balanced it all is. With a beautiful board game design, you can love it for that craftsmanship you can feel with every turn." Yup. But, of course: this is, increasingly, why I like any game. It's just much more visible in boardgames – where you have to wrangle the rules yourself. And everything else – the immersion, the involvement – will come too; it just comes from that clockwork heart.

I’m going to be speaking at Interesting North in Sheffield in November. My talk – which is only about fifteen minutes long, if I recall right – is going to be called something like Five Things Rules Do, and, at the moment, is summarised thus:

The thing that make games Games isn’t joypads, or scores, or 3D graphics, or little bits of cardboard, or many-sided dice. It’s the rules and mechanics beating in their little clockwork hearts. That may be a somewhat dry reduction of thousands of years of fun, but my aim is to celebrate and explore the many things that games (and other systemic media) do with the rules at their foundation. And, on the way, perhaps change your mind at exactly what rules are for.

Contents subject to change, but I think it’ll be a fun one – and a great event. Perhaps see you there!

  • "…what Civilization provides is a story with a beginning, middle, and end, which is three times more than what you probably started with. If you play the game in particularly interesting way, then you can be rewarded with a delightful, surprising experience that you can’t help but weave into a story, inventing characters and lovers and intrigues all round. This story might tug at you so insistently that you begin to jot down notes and timelines, writing diary entries and newspaper reports of battles. Eventually, you might join all those pieces up, rewrite them, throw it all away, and rewrite it again – and then you might call yourself a storyteller." And this is one of the kinds of storytelling that games are best at: collaborative tales weaved between ruleset and player, between man and machine.
  • Wow. One to return to: a super-comprehensive look at Pac-Man, including its AI routines and collision detection.