Monthly Archives: April 2010
Time again for the monthly PR-IF meetup. We'll be meeting on Monday, May 3, at 6:30 in Nick Montfort's office at MIT, 14N-233. On the agenda for this month is talk about the new release of Inform 7 (if it is out by then) and some play of the TWIFcomp entries (for which voting will be over by then), some of which are by people who will be in attendance at the meeting.
As usual, we'll head over to the CBC for food and/or drink afterwards (we usually head over there around 8 or 8:30).
All are welcome. If you've got something you'd like to show off or suggest that we all play or look at or discuss or whatever, please feel free.
The event that got me exploring my own burg was DASH, an annual puzzle competition that takes place simultaneously (time zones be damned) across several American cities. In typical puzzle-hunt fashion, the event's structure comprised several thematically linked printed puzzles whose answers fed into a metapuzzle, and a team completes the event once they can provide the resulting single final answer.
Appropriate to an event meant to be solved in a single afternoon by folks working outdoors and away from their PCs, the hunt focused on "groupsolves" -- lighthearted puzzles that don't require any research or heavy cogitation, instead inviting a small group of friends to bash through as a team via their overlapping areas of common knowledge. This year's DASH chose television as its theme, providing a rich mine of cultural trivia for puzzles to draw their wordplay from. The offhand-knowledge requirement never got more obscure than an early puzzle that involved assembling constellation names from a jumble of phonemes. (As with all good hunt puzzles, as tricky as the wordplay-work was the sussing out what one was meant to do with the starting materials; naturally the clue text for that puzzle involved the show Dancing with the Stars.)
DASH's props included a map of (in our case) Boston's South End and Back Bay neighborhoods, with a couple dozen or so spots marked, and you did have to figure out the correct route for proceeding through them. Once you answered a puzzle, you consulted a lookup table to learn where to head next. There, you'd receive that location's puzzle-materials from a DASH organizer idling nearby (and helpfully demarcated by their wearing a pair of TiVo costume-antennae), and you'd set to work anew. Despite the map, however, the puzzles were not tied to location; that is, none required you to take the third letter off the second word of the nearby statue's plaque, or somesuch. Entirely self-contained, the puzzles could therefore be safely identical in every DASH-participating city.
It would be reasonable to ask why the hunt bothered with the run-around element, then. Why not take the more traditional puzzle-hunt route and have teams stay put throughout the event?
Proving the notion that few things breed creativity like constraint, the TWIFcomp - a challenge to write a work of interactive fiction in 140 characters or fewer (modulo whitespace) - just posted its sixty-one (61) entries online. In contrast, this year's Spring Thing, a themeless IF contest meant to provide an antipodal counterweight to October's annual IFComp, was cancelled due to receiving zero entries.
Many of the TWIFcomp games (particularly those programmed in Inform 7) can be played online; just follow the links. Don't expect to get much joy out of these little games if you're not already well acquainted with the medium; 140 characters means all punch and no context.
Speaking of playing IF online, Andrew Plotkin has just made all his games playable in-browser. This is possible by way of a modified version of Parchment, complemented with layers of handrolled, game-appropriate CSS he wrote to make them pretty.
I am very happy to see this happen. Interactive fiction needs to ditch its reliance on downloads and confusing third-party interpreter programs in order to reach all the people who ought to experience it, and it's great to see a major author of modern IF get this boulder rolling.
Jon Blow, author of the hit indie videogame Braid, gave a talk about game design in January 2010. The talk is short, about 20 minutes, but the Q&A that followed was about an hour, and I found it to be even more interesting than the talk. In particular, he answered a question about the stars in Braid, which is a part of the game that he is usually silent about. So I thought it was worth excerpting the question and his answer (about 9 minutes total). But, if you have time to listen to the full talk and Q&A, it's got other interesting stuff too. (He initially blows off the question and takes another question, which I edited out; that question, by the way, was about Wulfram, a team-based first-person tank shooter game with some pretty cool strategic elements that he co-wrote in the mid-90s.)
This week I complete my writeup of the stuff I hoovered off the merch tables outside the very first PAX East expo hall last month. As I mentioned last time, almost everything I bought at this game expo was some kind of printed matter.
Meanwhile, by Jason Shiga
I don't understand how I haven't run into Jason Shiga's work before last month, where two of his self-published books lay among the Printed Works of Interest on display at the PAX IF Suite. One of them, a black-and-white, intriguingly dogeared comic book called Meanwhile, caught my attention immediately, and I was delighted to discover that a brand-new full-color hardcover edition had not only just been printed but was for sale at the expo. For my money, it is a best-case scenario of print-based interactive fiction.
The golden halo of Steve the Saint
Makes the iPad the only toy worth your time
And developers take it with righteous complaint
Thanks to Patrick Nielsen-Hayden for the footnote that inspired this little effort.
Just to be clear about this: I have ordered my iPad 3G. I agree with both Siracusa and Datskovskiy: Apple has declared that it doesn't have to care what developers think, and it is right. Because Apple has the device that I want to use. Ultimately, it's about the users, and the users are at Apple's stores, online and off.
For ten years now, the best computer environment available (for me) has boasted the best development and hacking environment available. It's been awesome, but it's been Apple's decision to do it that way; it's not a civil right. Their new computer environment won't work the same way. Too bad. Bad for Apple, in the long term, I believe -- but I can't change their mind.
Will I use my iPhone and iPad? Yes. Will I create iPhone/iPad apps? I haven't decided yet. If I do, it will be in full awareness that Apple can jerk my chain at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. It's not personal, it's not political; it's just a risk of the market.
It's apparently time for my yearly post. Hello everyone!
I just wanted to point at this: A Brief History of Pokemon Battling at the Ogiue Maniax blog. I'm not very familiar with the franchise, but this was a great explanation of how the gameplay of the Pokemon video game has evolved through the years.
Here is the video my Flip camcorder shot of three of the IF-related PAX East-ish events. I apologize for the wobbly quality; I didn't arrive at PAX with plans to record anything, but found myself deputized into a videographer role after I was noticed fooling around with my brand-new camera-toy. As such, I (and other individuals I roped in to help me) struggled to figure out how to best use the device even while shooting these videos.
Two of these videos cut out prematurely, because it turns out that the Flip doesn't offer much in the way of a battery-life indicator. On the plus side, the audio is as good as you can hope to get from a little box located yards away from the subject. So: not very good at all, actually, but at least it's audible. Next time I do something like this, I'll plan ahead and bring both a real camera and mic setup, and more of a clue as to their use. (Taking, perhaps, a page from Ben Collins-Sussman, who took some great photos of PAX's IF activity.)
Nonetheless, these videos are filled with smart people saying interesting things about interactive text games, so please do enjoy them! If you're well-behaved I'll end this post with related videos shot on better equipment by someone more skilled.
Dispelling the Invisibility: IF Outreach
This took place in the IF Hospitality Suite (a.k.a. Zarf's room in the Hilton) on Saturday evening.
Panelists, from left to right, include Andrew Plotkin (author), Chris Dahlen (journalist), John Bardinelli (critic), and Jason McIntosh (me). The moderator, seated in the middle, is Harry Kaplan. Fellow PR-IF member Jake Eakle operated the camera. The video ends abruptly when the camcorder runs out of storage (it's a long discussion), but the panel wound down soon after.
GAMBIT Talks: Magic Systems in Theory and PracticeGAMBIT does various game-related things on many Fridays, but they usually start at 4:30, a bit early for me to make it from work, so I'm happy to see this one starting at 5.
Friday April 9th, 5-7 pm.
Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab
5 Cambridge Center, 3rd Floor (near the Kendall Sq T Stop)
Magic Systems in Theory and Practice
In his talk, Jeff Howard discusses ideas for creating magic systems that are more fun, meaningful, and interactive than those typically seen in many role-playing games. Weaving together examples such as the operatic magic systems of Demon's Souls and the multi-sensory magical language of Eternal Darkness, Howard suggests that the magic systems of the future should draw upon the occult teachings of the past in order to create magical grammars that take input from a variety of sensory modes, including gesture, music, voice, and color. Drawing on many concrete gaming examples, including his game-in-progress Arcana Manor, Howard argues that the total art of opera and the enacted symbolism of contemporary occultist "workings" provide a model for a magical grammar that is connotative rather than purely denotative, i.e. in which gameplay enchants players on multiple levels of emotion and idea.
Jeff Howard is Assistant Professor of Game Development and Design at Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota. He is the author of Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives. He received his B.A. from the University of Tulsa and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is currently working on a game-in-progress, Arcana Manor, and related research about magic systems.
Here is one of my two funny PAX East 2010 stories: Near the start of the Friday-afternoon festivities, around the time that Zarf took the pensive-looking photo of me seen in his own PAX post, I bumped into Darius Kazemi, celebrated one-man social nexus of the Boston game-making community. We caught each other up on our respective projects, and after hearing about how I've been experimenting with writing longer, more-or-less regularly paced columns for The Gameshelf, he gave me a quest. I was to seek out a brand-new and ambitious print magazine called Kill Screen, the editors of which I could find in attendance that weekend.
The rest of Friday was then completely consumed by IF events, as others have already ably recorded. (Again, see Zarf's post for links aplenty.) When Saturday came, and after I'd succeeded in meeting my visiting Xbox Live pals for lunch, I pulled out my phone for some google-sleuthing, hoping to find where within the overcrowded PAX these magazine folks hid. A search for
"kill screen" "pax east" brought me easily to this blog post by the magazine's managing editor, Chris Dahlen, where he noted that he'd be speaking on a panel in the IF hospitality suite at 7 PM. As it happened, I would be speaking on the same panel. Quest complete.
I am in possession of both video and commentary regarding that panel, but alas, my poor, broken, coffee-stained MacBook lacks the wherewithal to make the video postworthy. I expect FedEx to deliver its shiny white replacement presently, at which point I'll attempt to push my own thoughts on that panel and the whole "IF Outreach" topic into presentable shape.
Until then, allow me to review my PAX East 2010 Haul. With one exception, everything I purchased took the form of printed matter, and all of it came from either the Attract Mode folks or Jason Scott, both of whom had set up tables in "Band Land" amid all the musicians' merch. I took delighted surprise in finding myself coming home from a video game expo with only an armload of books and magazines, and hope you'll enjoy hearing about it.