Monthly Archives: October 2008
Recently he put up the video he shot as an animation reference for the Prince's moves. It's his brother David running, jumping, and climbing around a parking lot. If you've ever played the game, you will bounce straight up in the air and shout "That's it! That's exactly it!"
Watch the Prince of Persia reference video.
But it's also worth browsing through Mechner's other entries (there aren't too many). This early comment is both delightful and a little heartbreaking:
And... the games business is drying up. Karateka may make me as little as $75,000 all told, and it’s at the top of the charts. There’s no guarantee the new game will be as successful. Or that there will even be a computer games market a couple of years from now. (July 5, 1985)
The Interactive Fiction Competition started taking a different tack last year, encouraging its judges (a group consisting of anyone on the internet who wish to download, play, and then rate at least a few of the entered games) to freely discuss their play experiences wherever they liked. Prior to that, the competition put the kibosh on any public discussion about the games at all, right up until the year's winners were announced. I don't follow the IF community closely enough to know the reason for the change; my educated guess is that it was easier to hush early critiques when almost all discussion happened in two Usenet newsgroups, but we are well into the Age of Blog now, and hoping to keep a lid on super-distributed discussion is laughably futile.
I noticed the rules change only this year, because I have since then subscribed to the Planet Interactive Fiction news feed, and found myself deluged with comp-spurred reviews and rants throughout the first two weeks of October, as the most eager judges tore into the games as soon as they could. Unsurprisingly, Emily Short's words on the topic stand out especially, capped with this round-up post on her blog.
Auntie Pixelante also linked to Emily's reviews today, adding her thoughts that the comp's a dead horse now, since a lot of its entries are objectively sub-par. This strikes me as kind of a strange thing to say; I've been following the comp since 1999 (when I myself was an entrant), and it seems half the entrants on any given year have been failed experiments, lame jokes, or just plain old untested, broken messes.
But the other half of the entries is made of entirely playable little games, and the cream of these are good little text games, year after year. After winning the competition, these games often go on to receive a lot of discussion and links outside of the IFComp's little bubble. (One can find discussion of last year's winner, Lost Pig, on some high-profile game-discussion blogs well into this year.) For a completely unmoderated-entry worldwide competition, even an obscure one, that sounds like a pretty good hit rate to me!
Even as the indie-arty games that Auntie writes about gain increasing social and even financial recognition (why yes, I did just upload a double-sawbuck into Nintendo's wallet so I could download World of Goo for Wii), pure text games, with their necessarily homely interfaces, continue to live in a niche among niches. The IFComp maintains its role as a beacon that pulses once a year without fail, and if it gathers a lot of odd chaff, it also attracts enough bright stuff to confirm that the medium remains vital.
The 2008 comp's judging period stands at its halfway mark now, with about three weeks to go. I don't know if I'll write about any games, but I believe I shall now get around to downloading the glob and participate in the judging. You are welcome to join me!
I have not blogged about Shadow Unit, because this is the Gameshelf, and Shadow Unit is not a game. I love Shadow Unit. It's a collaborative storytelling project by four well-known fantasy authors. You might call it a series of short stories about a mutant-hunting FBI team. You'd be closer if you called it a prose work with the structure of an episodic TV series. It's great writing; X-Files with human beings instead of Hollywood/TV heroes. It isn't a game.
I say that because I didn't do anything; I read the episodes as they were posted. (And I dropped some cash in the hat.) No interactivity, no game. Easy distinction, right?
But would Elizabeth Bear, Will Shetterly, Sarah Monette, and Emma Bull agree with that? Do they feel like they're playing a game? I'll ask around. But let's stay outside the circle of creators for now.
Who's playing now?
Let me reach back to my post about Alternity, the Livejournal-mediated Harry Potter RPG that started recently. I called that a "game", even though it's got a bounded circle of creators and no ARG elements. Why was that a game? For one thing, the circle is larger -- twenty-ish? But mostly, I was thinking of the game model. You and your friends could set up your own game of "that thing", with your own scenario. "That thing" is fairly structured; it has rules ("journal posts only", the 15-minute correction rule, etc). The creators are continually making posts in these constrained ways. Whereas Shadow Unit's "thing" is both more nebulous and more generic: traditional short stories appear on a web site.
But then, the Livejournals have a rule... Okay, I'm constructing a difference out of degrees. Never mind.
You can read a slideshow about this thing, by creators Reesa Brown and Kit O'Connell. They presented this at Arse Elektronika 2008. They're working with fantasy author Steven Brust, plus a cast of thousands, on a... a...
I have no idea. We'll find out more on October 9th, or so I hear.
It has some web sites and blogs, as I linked above. It has a Twitter feed. But of course that's not the Twitter feed of the project. It's the Twitter feed of the Mediators, the ?police ?steering committee ?resident psychiatrists of a city that is clearly not on Earth, and perhaps not in our universe...
So is this a game? It is impossible to describe without the perspective of ARGs. Continuous Coast is an alternate-reality presentation, in the sense of ARGs. ARGs are games. Continuous Coast is not -- by the early descriptions -- a MMO puzzle-quest in the sense of I Love Bees. It is described as interactive, in that the circle is open. Everything is Creative-Commons licensed, and the creators invite everyone to play in the sandbox.
"Play" invites "game", doesn't it?
Let me fling out some terminology. Shadow Unit and Continuous Coast are ARFs: alternate reality fiction. "Alternate reality", again, in the ARG sense: that which spills out from the page and mixes and blurs into our reality. "This is not fiction." Web sites, stories, art, all lived in-character.
(No relation here to "alternate history", the subgenre of science fiction that deals with what-if divergences of history. Sorry about that confusion. "Enhanced reality" and "ERGs" might have been a better term, back when the Beast and the Bees came along; but that spaceship has sailed.)
I'm not trying to distinguish ARFs from games, in the broad sense. I'm just trying to distinguish it from the well-described category of ARGs. I don't care whether ARF is a "game" -- doesn't matter, it is play. People will interact to shape an experience that comes as much from them as from the original designers.
Really, I want to drop a different division down the cloud, and say that an ARG is alternate reality interactive fiction -- the subset of ARFs which involve specific challenges for the players to defeat. We could even distinguish between multi-player ARIF and solo ARIF: imagine a game that's spread across web sites and in-character blogs, but which is sized for a single player to work through without help. (I don't know any examples of this, but I want to avoid wiring in assumptions.)
Or maybe that's silly terminology, because it's all "interactive", ARFs and ARGs and journal games and the lot. We take for granted that alternate-reality presentations are participatory. The whole point of bleeding into your reality, right, is that you live in your reality. It wouldn't be AR if you weren't involved.
Or, as Brown and O'Connell write: "21st-century storytelling blurs the line between canon and fanon."
Damn. Now I want to go back and rebuild my lamented Myst Online from scratch, using these ideas. I knew they were missing something...
I play a lot of teeny little Flash games. These games are free and ad-supported. Therefore, they recapitulate the entire history of Web advertising, and we could repeat it right down the line in the comments, and maybe we will. I will try to short-circuit it with the following assertions. (Expletives have been BSGified for public consumption, but really, I wrote this with a lot of swears.)
People frakking hate web ads. They hate banner ads, they hate pop-up ads, they hate them all. More people hate them with silent grumbling than by jumping up and down screaming "feldercarb!" but the hate is there.
This is because they are noisy, ugly visual pollution which exist to drag your attention away from what you care about.
Ad companies politely pretend this hate does not exist. They pretend they are presenting valuable relevant content in parallel with your web-browsing experience. This is a load of bat-dren, but it lets them sleep at night.
Some people use ad blockers and such. This makes ad companies weep, and then you get the whole "You're killing the Web 2.0 economy! You are destroying the sites that you visit!" argument. This is right up there with the "Software piracy costs 250 billion dollars a year!" argument: there is a real concern there, but it is comprehensively snowed under by phony hysteria, which is to say, an ocean of decaying dingo's kidneys.
The reason this is hysteria is that, even without in-browser ad blockers, people grow ad blockers in their brains very quickly. Ad companies sit around discussing "dwell time" and "optimal ad positioning" as if they weren't staring at the proof that everybody hates them, and discussing their strategies for making everybody suffer more by breaking their brains.
Therefore, speaking as a consumer, I avoid lots of ads, and you can't make me feel guilty about it. No, not even if you're the game designer who makes money off the ads. I love game designers, you're awesome, kid, now shut up.
How does this apply to Flash games? Well, we have lived through the following stages of the war:
- A game appears on a web page
- A game appears on a web page with ads around it
- An ad appears on a web page, and then turns into a game
- ...and then ads appear inside the game itself (between games, or even between levels)
We hit stage 3 a couple of years ago -- managed by ad companies like Mochiads. We are just now hitting the point of stage 4.
Rather than trying to make a moral or aesthetic argument about this progression, I will describe my rules for dealing with it.
When I fire up a web page with a game, if I see a splash-page ad, I'm going to bury the window and wait for it to finish loading. I saw your ad, now I'm doing other stuff. I'll be back later.
If you show a loading progress bar with an ad above it, I understand. I'm not watching it load with glazed consumer eyes, but I get that you're making use of dead space.
If you show a falsified loading progress bar, which ticks up for 20 seconds even after the game has finished loading, you're a frakking liar. This is not a moral argument about your ad, this is a moral argument about you. "You" meaning Mochiads. You're dishonest sleazeballs when you do this.
The only thing that blinks on my screen is the game I'm playing. Animation is an emergency signal. Misuse it and I'll resize the window to cut your ad right the frell off.
Honestly, a row of brightly-colored, high-contrast ads is pretty damn noisy even if they're not animated. I'll trim them off too. There's a reason that Google Ads are homogenous in style and blend with the overall page: it makes the page suck less.
You can put an ad on the "click to start game" screen.
Once I click to start the game, ad time is over. I'm playing a game now. The next ad I see is the end of the game. I mean that literally: the next time I see an ad, I shout "game over!" and close the window. No, I am not playing again. You
If you can't make a living this way, I'll play other people's games. I'm fine with that. Yes, I do design games for free.
Maybe someday ad technology will get so sophisticated that I can't play Flash games at all. Do you want to go there? No, don't worry -- I don't really expect it to happen. Web ad blockers seem to be in fine shape these days.
So, if you want to try to go there, you're frakked. One way or the other.
What does all of this boil down to? Seriously, this: web ads are an attention tax levied on the people who don't care about them very much. I care about them a lot, so I block a lot of ads (by various means). You cannot get me to start watching ads by making them more intrusive; you can only make me hate you more.
So back the hezmana off and be happy with the (large majority) of ad-viewers you've got now. Most people aren't juggling windows around to avoid your dren. You don't have to yotz up the game experience itself to make your garbage-spreading cash quota.
This has been announced in many places around Boston, but just in case you missed it:
Infocom star Steve Meretzky (Planetfall, A Mind Forever Voyaging, Leather Goddesses of Phobos, Hitchhiker's Guide, Spellcasting 101/201/301, etc) will be speaking at MIT on Monday.
- Monday, Oct 6, 6:00 pm
- MIT, Stata Center, room 32-141
This lecture is part of Nick Montfort's Purple Blurb colloquium.
They say you can blog about whatever you want, really. But I don't have a cat, and it's not Friday. So this is Irregular Holy Crap I Wish That Were My Life Wednedays.
Jay Walker's private library -- article by Steven Levy in Wired
The article is game-related only in that videogames, particularly adventure games, often have imposing libraries. Some of them even look this good. But in a game library, inevitably, there are only three or five books you can look at.
Just occasionally, reality is better.
I've been upgrading my own library, the past few days. But when I say "upgrading," I mean "I crammed in one more small bookshelf, plus a DVD rack, and then added a second lamp so that there'd be a little more light in the back." I didn't put in floating balconies and a Nuremberg Chronicle and a Sputnik. Nor is my apartment done up in a surprisingly harmonious mixture of wood inlay and fiber-optic glass.
Maybe next year.