Search Results for: talks

Warbler's Nest MIT presentation rescheduled to April 22

Barring further cataclysmic weather phenomena, my snow-postponed Warbler’s Nest presentation shall now happen at 5:30 PM on April 22, 2013, in MIT’s room 14E-310. As before, and like all events in the Purple Blurb series, it shall be free and open to the public. Please come join us as we traverse the game together on the big screen, with a discussion period to follow.

A word on context: Purple Blurb is a series of smart and diverse digital writing presentations originally organized by long-time Boston-area IF supporter Nick Montfort, and I encourage Boston-area readers to check out the other events on the Blurb’s schedule this spring. All cost nothing to attend and are full of further electronic-text-mashup goodness, a rich field of which interactive fiction is merely one facet.

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Warbler presentation postponed

Due to the weather that buried Boston over the weekend, we’re postponing my presentation about The Warbler’s Nest at MIT, originally scheduled for Monday. I’ll post again when I know the new date.

Sorry about that. Stay warm, y’all!

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A public presentation of "The Warbler's Nest", Feb 11 at MIT

I am delighted to announce that my interactive fiction work The Warbler’s Nest will lead the Spring 2013 Purple Blurb events at MIT. Purple Blurb is Nick Montfort’s long-running series of guest lectures and presentations from a wide variety of digital-writing creators. Past talks have included play and discussion of IF I greatly admire, and I’m honored to have Warbler follow them.

We’re currently working out exactly how the presentation will work, but it will definitely involve a spectator-friendly playthrough and reading of the game, followed by a discussion period.

The presentation will happen on Feb. 11 at 5:30pm in MIT’s room 14E-310. Like all Purple Blurb events, it will be free and open to the public. If you’re around Boston in February, please visit!

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Setting as Character in Narrative Games (PAX East 2011)

Part of Saturday’s proceedings at the 2011 IF Summit that conveniently adjoined this year’s PAX East.

In adventures and other explorational games, the setting is often the most eloquent and memorable character: an island, a castle, a starship. How do these locales tell stories, and how does the player character fit into those stories?

This panel discussion features independent IF creators Andrew Plotkin, Stephen Granade, and Rob Wheeler, and Dean Tate of Harmonix (formerly of Irrational Games).

Click here to watch this on Vimeo.

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Non-Gamers Gaming (PAX East 2011)

Here’s the first of three 2011 IF Summit event videos that The Gameshelf shot at PAX East. Unlike last year’s videos, I actually prepared a little for these, so there’s no sudden cut-offs due to battery death. I’ll also try to improve these videos’ visibility over last year’s by putting each into a separate blog post.

This one is the Non-gamers Gaming panel, featuring Heather Albano (Choice Of Games), Tim Crosby (Disruptor Beam), Caleb Garner (Part 12 Studios), Sarah Morayati (independent creator), and Andrew Plotkin (Zarf). Rob Wheeler manned the camera.

How do you design challenges for gamers who haven’t played the last thirty famous entries in the genre? What about readers and writers who do not identify as gamers?

Click here to watch this on Vimeo.

I must still apologize for the murky video quality, but it’s the best we could squeeze from my little Flip Video in the cramped and crowded hotel room that Friday’s IF events took place in. (Saturday found us instead enjoying a large and well-lit conference room, and the next video will reflect that.)

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A little Saturday-night Inform thunderstorm

Zarf’s already posted the schedule of IF-related events at PAX East 2011 (this coming weekend!), but as an egomaniac I just wanted to highlight the one event I’m directly involved with: Zarf and I are going to reprise the lightning-talk introduction to Inform that we first presented at GameLoop last summer. We’re going to build a very small game that shows off some of Inform’s major features, especially its natural-language syntax.

I love presenting Inform like this, because the language essentially sells itself. To my knowledge there is simply no other practical-use programming language on the planet, in any domain, whose source code reads like Inform’s. If you’ve never seen the language before, I could stand up there and implement the phone book at you, and it’d knock your socks off. So banging out a whole game in 45 minutes, with NPCs and puzzles and all that good stuff, should really bowl you over…

The talk will happen at 7 PM on Saturday, March 12, in the Alcott room in the Westin Waterfront hotel. Like the rest of the events happening there and in the suite, the talk is free and open to the public — you don’t need a PAX badge to come join us. Hope to see you there!

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Jon Blow talks about the stars in Braid

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.)

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[Boston] GAMBIT Talk: Magic Systems in Theory and Practice

For those who can make it to the Kendall Square area on Friday, GAMBIT is hosting Jeff Howard for a talk on magic systems. Here's the synopsis:

GAMBIT Talks: Magic Systems in Theory and Practice

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.

GAMBIT 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.

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St. Gulik added you as a friend

220px-Sacred-Chao.svg.pngPAX is nigh, and therefore I expect to lose my ability to make coherent blog updates for a while. Before I stride boldly into the Hynes Convention Center to enjoy my 1.8 feet of personal space, I'd like to frame a question.

Despite my personal GDC takeaways, the big conversation that seems to have come out of the conference is all about "social games", a category that, while nebulous, seems to comprise half "Oh goddammit FarmVille" and forty-nine percent reaction to that. From what I can tell, a cynical-but-not-incorrect definition of "social gaming" is "the viral Skinner boxes acting as venture capitalists' flypaper du jour", and in that light I can't say it really captures my interest. And yet, I find myself thinking a lot about the potential of Facebook-based games, and wishing to challenge the common perception that player-abusive games are somehow intrinsic to the platform.

While I normally avoid dichotomies, I have to admit that I find Jesse Schell's model of "persuaders" versus "fulfillers" attractive and compelling; it strikes me not so much of a good-versus-evil simplification, but rather a Discordian-style Greyface-verus-Eris framing. It casts the games that exist for the shining, pure joy of play against a dark background of games that exist primarily to control and exploit their users. And certainly, where "social gaming" is concerned, that backdrop seems quite vast and dark indeed.

So my question is: Where are the Erisian games of Facebook? I assert that Facebook is ripe for interesting and fulfilling games built specifically for its unique features, and which exist only because the games' authors wish for us to experience them, not because they want to try hypnotizing users with candied progress bars while reaching around for their wallets. Games that people will want to drag their friends into in order to share the joy, and not merely because it makes their eggplants grow faster. More after-school club, less Amway.

I would put forth TradeWars as a memorable example of a game designed to a fit a specific and peculiar digital platform - in this case, single-line dial-up bulletin board systems, as they existed circa 1990. It was[1] essentially a rendered-down digital adaptation of the tabletop RPG Traveller, taking place on a "board" of connected interstellar trade routes. While a multiplayer game, only one person -- the one user currently gumming up the BBS's single incoming phone line -- played at a time. Everyone had an equally limited number of daily turns to take, and they were guaranteed to happen both serially and in total secret from all the other players. Games usually had a set end-condition, at which point the winner received a congratulatory message in the BBS's login screen while the game world reset itself. The result was a compelling competitive experience, and a perfect fit for its medium.

Where are the TradeWarses of Facebook? By which I mean: where are the games whose "wall" posts serve only to further the fun, rather than act a big wet viral-payload sneeze into the collective face of one's friend-list? Where are the games that use Facebook's API to let people quickly assemble teams of friends to compete in clearly defined, finite-scope contests, with no more hooks into revenue streams than one finds when kids gather to play ball in a sandlot?

By one metric, more than one percent of humanity has FarmVille player accounts. If that's the best game that Facebook's enormous-and-growing userbase can play, then to say that they are ill-served is an understatement. It pains me to think that the forces of Greyface run roughshod, completely unchecked, on the world's largest digital social interface.

If such games exist within all the current "social" noise, please tell me -- I would love to learn about them. Because otherwise, if the goddess does not exist in the realm of Facebook, then someone'd best get around to inventing her.

Image: The Sacred Chao, with modification.

[1] Normally I avoid using past-tense verbs to describe old games, since that implies that they're long gone and unplayable, when that's usually not the case. But I feel compelled to make an exception here, since the entire medium of dial-up BBSes that games like TradeWars required for proper play has long since died away. The modern, web-playable recreations are just that: adaptations of the old ruleset to a new medium, not the original thing itself, now impossible to play as it once was. (I welcome correction, if I am mistaken!)

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My (vicarious) GDC takeaways

bsg and redder.jpgThanks to Twitter, I found myself vicariously attending GDC this year. Allow me to recount some of the more interesting things I heard people talking about.

Anna Anthropy released REDDER, a puzzley explore-and-collect game, free to play on the Newgrounds portal. Unlike When Pigs Fly, her previous effort, the difficultly comes not from its demanding feats of digital dexterity, but rather from the large size of the world, and the things about the world you must learn and remember while you strive to collect the shiny treasures. Give it a try, and block out a couple of hours to play it through if you like it.

One reason why I like Anna's games in particular is the same reason I liked watching the latter-day Battlestar Galactica so much. Ron Moore, BSG's executive producer, took advantage of internet publishing to create and release commentary tracks, in podcast format, almost at the same time the shows aired. They felt less like a producer reminiscing about a past project, and more like lectures about the challenges and strategies of putting an episodic TV show together, spoken by someone who was still in the thick of it.

Similarly, Anna is at least as active in presenting lectures and articles on level design (which we've linked to before) as she is with releasing actual games. Soon after I started When Pigs Fly and saw the grassy turf three screens over from the start, I may have said "heh heh" out loud. I felt that I knew exactly why she put it there, even though it had no explicit in-game effect, and I probably wouldn't have if I hadn't been reading along with her exegetic work.

Ian Bogost gave a presentation at GDC, titled "Play With Us", about how good games connect authors with their audiences in ways also seen in good poetry. He's posted its text and images on his website.

Pound's poem leaves enough room to see the Metro riders as the doleful subjects of labor, or as glistening Venuses amidst the iron.

The reader does not "receive" the message of the poem, but excavates its images and uses those to craft relevance.


The relationship of player to game is like that of the archaeologist to the ruin. A game is a remnant of something fashioned and disposed by its creator.

When we play, we excavate.

Read the whole thing, please.

Jason Roher, best known today for Passage, recently announced his next independently published game, Sleep is Death. This essentially looks like a tool for setting up and game-mastering two-player online storytelling RPGs, with each player sitting at a separate internet-connected computer.

I myself lack the creative muscles to get much out of storytelling games -- that is, light-ruleset role-playing games where the main goal of players and GM (when there is a GM at all) involves telling a story together: more improv theater than dungeon crawl. However, I must treat the timing as quite auspicious, given my recent appeal to the heavens for more experimentation with online multiplayer games. As such, I anticipate the game's release with eager curiosity.

I will be interested to see whether this project appeals to crowds larger than the niche who is already enjoying tabletop storytelling games, including expressly two-player works such as Emily Care Boss's Breaking the Ice. I predict that Sleep is Death won't launch any sort of narrativist-game revolution, but that it will introduce people to that niche who should have been there all along, and just didn't know it yet. To the rest, it will be food for thought. And this will be a net win.

Please do click through the charming and clever demonstration slideshow, which mimics a gameplay session while showing you everything you need to know to get excited about this project (if you're me).

Image credit: Battlestar Galactica publicity still by SyFy; chubby little astronaut art by Anna Anthropy.

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Transcript of Jon Blow's 2007 MIGS talk

I'd been meaning for a long time to listen to Jon Blow's celebrated and controversial 2007 presentation, "Design Reboot", at the Montreal International Games Summit. It's been available for years as an audio file and (non-synchronized) slideshow from his own website, but only yesterday did I discover that Michael Camilleri transcribed it, editing it for readability. Which I appreciate, clearly, since I just read it.

The talk's most lurid (and therefore most virulent) meme is World of Warcraft is immoral!, and of course that's an oversimplification. A better summary is that Blow compares WoW to junk food or cigarettes. In small doses these things are fine, and can serve as an occasionally welcome and rewarding treat. Their mere existence is not intrinsically evil. But all three products, by their natures, are open for misuse, and what's more all three are couched in industries that intentionally promote this behavior.

That's where the immorality lay, argues Blow, who feels that junk-food games' propensity to burn up countless hours of their users' lives without offering much in return is real harm, just as clogged arteries or filthied lungs are. The remedy he suggests involves a call for game makers to study some examples of recent games that do offer to enrich their players' lives in a small amount of time - like a good film, or poem, or concert - and to think about how they can apply similar principles into their own work, whether they're indie devs or part of huge triple-A studio projects.

Anyway: required reading. Thanks to Doug Orleans for the pointer.

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Two pieces on Pac-Man

The Pac-Man Dossier, a free book-in-a-website by Jamie Pittman, is an exhaustively researched and thoroughly enjoyable exegesis on the flagship game from the golden age of video arcades. After an initial chapter that lays out the backdrop of Pac-Man's development in Japan and subsequent worldwide introduction, Pittman delves into the machine's inner workings, keeping to a designer's-eye view.

Of particular interest to me is the clear but exact explanation of the different ways the four ghosts behave. The reader learns that the game's enemies share a set of deterministic rules for movement, but each one also carries an additional rule unique to that ghost. These rules are elegant and easy to describe, if you know the trick - but to a player of the game, they're visible only as slippery and subtle effects, enough to give the ghosts the distinct "personalities" that help make the game so memorable. Truly masterful design.

As a child, I revered - was obsessed by, really - this game and its manifold mysteries. Seeing them all laid bare like this over a quarter-century later feels... oddly satisfying, actually. It's less like reliving a significant part of my childhood than it is like discovering a heretofore unknown director's commentary track attached to it.

And here's a transcript from Darius Kazemi of a talk by Ian Bogost about the origins of Ms. Pac-Man. For some reason, I didn't know that the game was an American invention, delivered directly to Bally/Midway after Namco declined to produce a sequel to Pac-Man. (Wikipedia confirms this, so it must be true.) Contains bonus noodling about what Ms. Pac-Man can tell us about The Bible and late 20th Century feminism.

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