Results tagged “quick links”

Games in, on, and around our culture

Two quick links today.

  • A Common Nomenclature for Lego Families: That, families (and other households) that play with Lego. What do you call a two-by-two brick? Everybody calls it something. This article charts the nomenclature of four children.

...a "light saber" is a "light saber" no matter where you live or how much Lego you have.

(Thanks nancylebov for the link.)

  • One Book, Many Readings: A patient, detailed, gorgeous discussion of Choose Your Own Adventure books. Analyzes twelve of them in detail, including Edward Packard's original The Cave of Time. And when I say "analyzes", I mean several different data visualizations: the endings, the choice points, the flow graphs. Some are animated (Flash).

Another surprising change over time is the decline in the number of choices in the books. [...] I'd be very curious to know the reason for this progression toward linearity. Presumably the invisible hand was guiding this development, but whether the hunger was for less difficulty in the books or simply for something with more in the way of traditional storytelling is harder to unravel.

My only quibble with this essay is that white-on-black body text is a ravening monster that should have been exterminated at the end of the Dark Ages (1980-1984). But oh well.

(On the other hand -- who knew that Ellen Kushner wrote a CYOA book? Neat!)

(Thanks daringfireball for the link.)

Video game movie fake trailers

A brief moment of link-spamming. Which we don't do very much here at the Gameshelf, because we're all into critical analysis and deep esoteric ludic discourse 'n'all. But occasionally, I have to say, these videos from make me die laughing.

Die! With metaphorical-nonmetaphorical irony!

But they're all videogame fake movies, so it's okay.

Note: it's the soundtrack, always.

The Terrible Secret of Animal Crossing

A retelling, or reinterpretation, of that creepy game-timesucker-thing. The creepy part is how little reinterpretation the author had to do. Illustrated with direct, unedited screenshots. (Okay, later on they're supplemented with original artwork.)

It suddenly penetrates my 8-year-old brain like a brick through a convenience store window. They're all in on it. The mysterious cabbie that took off with all my shit, being forced to wear work clothes, the impossible sudden debt, the guarded gates... it's all one big conspiracy.

I'm trapped here. And I'm alone.

(Link thanks to tleaves.)

Butchering Pathologic

A review of Pathologic, a 2005 holocaustic CRPG that won a huge trail of rewards in Russia and that I never heard word one about. The game sounds astonishing, and I think I want to never play it. It's a button-buster of a review, anyway.

You will not get paid money when you carry out the whims of the town's leaders. There will not be a health pack hidden behind the thug. You will not find a loaf of bread at the back of the cave. You'll find a stone wall at the back of the cave, because it's a fucking cave.

Instead, survival is its own entirely separate entity. To keep up a stash of supplies you have to learn to master the town's nightmare economy. Example: giving a child a cutthroat razor in exchange for stolen jewelery, trading these jewels in at a grocers for a heel of bread.

Review is spoilery; part 3 of the review is seriously spoilery.

(Link thanks to Nancy Lebovitz.)

One more past blast: Enigma

The Oxyd games, by Meinolf Schneider, were one of the great puzzle-game series of the early 90s. They originated in the Atari world; I played them on Mac. I played them for hours, because they were big, big and evil and full of puzzle goodness. I still have the Per.Oxyd shareware code book.

Now -- or rather, two years ago -- an open-source implementation of the game appeared: Enigma. This means you have to play it. Now. Available for Mac/Win/Linux.

(It is not, I admit, a well-chosen name. There must be dozens of puzzle games called "Enigma", not to mention Enigmo, etc. But who cares?)

Oxyd is a physics puzzler, in the Marble Madness line. You roll a black ball around by nudging your mouse. When you hit certain blocks, they open, revealing a color. Then you play Concentration. Hit two blocks of the same color, and they're done. When all the color-blocks on a level are done, the level is solved.

Simple! Of course! Not. You'll see walls and mazes. You'll fall into water and drown. You'll fall into quicksand and drown slowly (if you don't struggle out in time). You'll hit switches to open and close doors. You'll blow up bricks with dynamite. You'll find slopes, gravity, crates, one-way doors, timed doors, springs to jump walls, lasers, pipes, deathtraps, and mailboxes (evil, trust me). There are regions of high friction, low friction, and no friction. It's very tactile -- the mouse interface practically lets you feel the wood, carpet, or metal that you traverse.

In some levels, you have to steer many marbles at once. In others, you can switch back and forth between two marbles, essentially controlling two cooperating "characters". There is, in short, a hell of a lot of variety, packed into what looks like a simple tile-based game.

Enigma is a startlingly faithful reconstruction of Oxyd, considering that 640x480 was a giant-sized screen when it first appeared. The graphics have been scaled up without losing the original style. All the levels from the original Oxyd games are included; and then a big batch of new levels. And then, since it's open-source, a steady stream of user-contributed levels. The game engine is capable of emulating Sokoban, and so a set of Sokoban levels is included. Stuff like that.

I could easily spend the rest of the holiday season playing through this thing. I won't, honest -- too many other games to play. (I've barely even started Mirror's Edge!) But I could.

Note that Enigma is a fan recreation of Oxyd. I don't know how the original author feels about it; the web site doesn't say, except to thank him for the inspiration. There is a recent game which is an official descendant of the Oxyd line -- Oxyd Extra 2.0. (Free but not open-source.) I haven't looked at it.

(I would have included this in my Forerunner Foray post if I'd known about it at the time... but I didn't. Thanks to jayisgames for tipping me off.)

I blogged a while ago about Adventure on the iPhone -- Colossal Cave, that is, not the text adventure. Now Peter Hirschberg brings us the other one: Atari 2600 Adventure on the iPhone. It's a free download.

(As Nick Montfort likes to remind me, Warren Robinett intended his Atari Adventure game to be a port of the text game Adventure. It's extremely stylized, of course, but it's got the mazes and the monsters and the keys and the puzzles... the giant bat must be a reject from Wumpus, however.)

While my back was turned, Fantasy Flight Games got the rights to republish Cosmic Encounter. Great Bird of the Galaxy!

Cosmic was the game of my college years; we played a couple of games just about every Sunday afternoon. It was already out of print from its second publisher, and then (in 1991) reprinted by a third, and I could go on all day about the shortcomings of its various incarnations. And the expansion sets. (I had the enormous luck to find a copy of Eon's original Expansion Pack #8 in a dusty Pittsburgh gameshop. Kickers, kickers were key. I never cared for flares that much.)

Cosmic reappeared in 2000 in a nicely-produced -- but expensive and oversimplified -- box set from Avalon Hill. Then Cosmic Encounter Online, a capable (okay, still simplified) browser-based game which is still going strong. And now the wheel turns again: a new box set. Fantasy Flight's web site says it will ship this month for US$60.

The new edition looks pretty good. The famously complicated turn structure is diagrammed on each alien power card, with the important phase (for that power) highlighted. (Preview examples: Mind, Pacifist, Parasite, Loser, and newcomer Tripler.) No star-system hex boards, but you can make your own if you want the classic experience.

The all-important artwork is satisfactory. (And when I say "satisfactory", I just mean "I will always be wedded to the Eon artwork of my youth.") Kevin Wilson, the game designer in charge of the project, calls the style "retro-futurism", which I'd agree with -- old pulp covers, more than a hint of Frank Kelly Freas.

It will ship with 50 aliens, a decent selection -- handily graded by play-difficulty, if you want to introduce new players to the game. Expansion sets are promised. To be sure, each republisher of Cosmic has promised expansion sets, and I don't recall that any have succeeded except for Mayfair's minimal More Cosmic Encounter in 1992. Hopefully FF's edition will get enough love to keep growing.

More iPhone adventures

A quick note: Craig Smith has ported Frotz to the iPhone. This means that you can play I am not kidding hundreds of text adventures, including all of mine. Frotz is a free download in the iPhone App Store. (It's a Google code project.)

The app comes with a nice stack of games. (Including the famous Zarf games A Change in the Weather, Spider and Web, and The Dreamhold. Also the famous not-by-Zarf-but-he-shows-up game Being Andrew Plotkin.) But the really boss trick is that it lets you browse IFDB, directly from the Frotz app. Select any Z-code game, and it's automatically downloaded and added to your game list. Think of it as a mini App Store for IF -- only all free.

(I really have to adopt some cover art for my games. I did a cover for Shade that I rather like. For the rest, I will go back and look at Emily Short's IF Cover Art Drive. There were some great contributions in there, but I never bestirred my butt to accept any of them.)

iPhone Frotz is a 1.0 release, and I see some rough edges, but very small ones. The worst problem I've found is that The Dreamhold plays very slowly -- not every move, but when you do something interesting. This bothers me, because The Dreamhold is my shot at an introductory IF game -- it's designed to coach players who have never tried IF. I want it to run well. My current theory is that displaying italicized text is much slower than printing plain text.

More later. (I forgot to charge Mr Shiny since getting back from vacation, and I should save what's left of the battery for, maybe, receiving phone calls.)

I post some game reviews here, but I also write game reviews that appear on my own web site. I've been doing this for over a decade now, and I live in the iron grip of much shorter-lived habits than that, so I'm not going to abandon that page now.

And I don't want to double-post everything.

So, I'll just link to the backlog. Here are the last few adventure games I've reviewed:

Up in the next couple of months: Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis.

And now I will pass out, because I blew too many hours this evening playing Endgame: Singularity. This is a free casual Civ-style game which I found cute and clever. You're a newly-arisen AI, living in the Internet, trying to rent enough server space (under fake ID) to survive and grow.

I usually avoid Civ games, but this one had sufficient chill factor to pull me in -- once. Keep in mind that I avoid Civ games because I like the exploration factor, which means I hate failing and starting over. In fact, I don't even care for succeeding and starting over. I grabbed Endgame in order to play it once, and I succeeded (thank you, Easy Mode), so it was all good.

This is not a struggle of several AIs under symmetric rules. You are the AI. Your only enemy is the complacent herd of humanity: ignorant of your existence, and you'd better keep them that way, because if they find out about you, it's plug-pulling time. You set up computational bases on rented servers (and, eventually, larger facilities). Occasionally -- purely by chance -- one of your bases will be discovered and shut down. When this happens, humanity becomes more suspicious about Weird Stuff On The Internet; the more suspicious they get, the greater the chances of another base being discovered. You, in turn, can use your CPU and capital resources to research technologies to hide yourself better -- and, of course, to build better servers.

So, rather than a war, it's a building game with intermittent, localized disasters. Keep a few backups and don't get greedy, and you'll do well. This is the sort of dynamic I enjoy. (The dynamic I don't enjoy is when a rapacious horde of rivals comes over the Wicked High Mountains and outcompetes me. Or when an earthquake destroys my whole country. These are things that Endgame does not do to you.)

I also enjoyed feeling like I was a cross between Daniel Keys Moran's Ring and the bad guys from Odyssey 5. These are not virtues of Endgame, but riding a cultural wave is one of the things that games can succeed or fail at, and this one succeeds.

Open-source smugness: Endgame is a GPL project written in Python. Maybe somebody will write that multi-AI struggle version someday.

Comics about digital games

A cheap topic, perhaps -- there are web-comics about everything. But I stumbled across two of these this week, and was reminded about the third. So let us venture forth.

(Links are to the first strip of each comic.)

To be honest, the binding thread across these three comics is my reaction: "Why... would somebody... be writing a comic... about that?" (Picture plaintive gesticulation of at least three limbs.) I plead guilty to the freak show. In each case, however, there is an answer to the question.

+EV is written to the audience of a great and powerful online gaming industry -- of which I know practically nothing. (I even have friends who work in that industry! But the all-seeing eye of Zarf is really pretty nearsighted and parochial. I stick with my non-third-person adventure games. It's a life.)

Clockwork Game concerns a piece of gaming history. It's too young a strip for the plot to be apparent, but I'm intrigued.

And My Name is Might Have Been is self-justifying. I won't spoil it.

More quick links

A couple more quick links from the Internet, where "the Internet" in this case means "Chad Orzel's blog". (No particular reason; it just happens to be the place where I saw both of these.)

Susan Beckhardt gives a nice introduction to game theory. If you have no idea what I mean by game theory, or how you can think about games mathematically, read these. If the idea is old hat to you, go play a game or something. It's a quick link!

Let's Play a Game!

  • The basic idea of game theory, using everyone's favorite example, Nim. (Or actually not -- it's a simpler subtraction game which she calls "G(6,3)". But you think about it the same way.)

Game Trees and Totally Finite Games

  • How to analyze a simple game. (This is what people mean when they say things like Checkers is Solved.) Now, what is Supergame?

Third part to arrive after her thesis is turned in. Hopefully she'll give a description of the Supergame paradox, which I remember fondly from old Martin Gardner logic books.

And, in the "old standards" category: Relativistic Asteroids. (Java applet.)

Try the classic version, hit "S" to start the game, and then "F" to put the display in the ship's reference frame. (That's with the ship always in the center of the screen.) Accelerate around and watch Lorenz-Fitzgerald contraction in... action.

I apologize. Couldn't find any other way to end that sentence. I'll go get into the crate now.

More quick links

Kit O'Connell writes about playing Morrowind:

I want to suggest that there is also an 'Uncanny Valley' of sorts in world-building, that when creating imaginary worlds which feel real to us there is a point where something is uncomfortably almost-but-not-quite real.

(from The uncanny valley of world building, Kit O'Connell)

Much debate follows in the comments, including whether Kit was even understanding his exemplar Morrowind anecdote correctly. Nonethless, a useful idea to apply.

I know, it's on BoingBoing, which means you've already seen it. Nonetheless:

The distributed fiction of I Love Bees was designed as a kind of investigative playground, in which players could collect, assemble and interpret thousands of different story pieces related to the Halo universe. By reconstructing and making sense of the fragmented fiction, the fans would collaboratively author a narrative bridge between the first Halo videogame and its sequel. As the project’s lead writer Sean Stewart explains: "Instead of telling a story, we would present the evidence of that story, and let the players tell it to themselves."

(from Why I Love Bees, Jane McGonigal)

The kind of game design that the creators were exploring will be instantly familiar to fans of the MIT Mystery Hunt:

I would argue that the primary puzzle of I Love Bees embodied a meaningful ambiguity. That is, the data set lacked the clarity of formal interactive instructions, yet maintained a distinctively sensical nature. That is, the choice and ordering of the coordinates did not seem nonsensical. Instead, its arrangement was structured and seemingly intentional enough that it promised to mean something, if only approached in the right way. This meaning was implied through the specificity, volume and overtly designed presentation of the data.

But a Mystery Hunt is largely fixed in form at launch time; it has to be, to allow many teams to compete on a fair basis. The designers may have to fix puzzles on the fly, and perhaps delete some, but they won't usually invent new ones. Certainly not based on a particular team's theory.

I Love Bees, in contrast, was gleefully extended as the (single, universal) team of players made progress. The article goes on to describe how the collective intelligence went way beyond what the creators expected. By the end, the creators were flinging together puzzles that required tremendous feats of player cooperation and networking. The players wound up making dictionaries of game information that were more complete and consistent than what the creators had built. And then the creators started relying on these dictionaries to design later puzzles, and mining ideas from incorrect solving theories...

Games that don't exist

Greetings, devoted bloggees. I am Andrew Plotkin -- or, as some of you know me, the Internet's Zarf. You have no doubt seen me on the Gameshelf, abetting werewolves and villagers in their mutual slaughter. I also write text adventures, review games, and generally mess around with the notion of gaming. And I am delighted to join the Gameshelf Blog.

For my first post, two variations on the theme of "games that don't exist"...

Invisible Games is an occasionally-updated collection of... of... you know Italo Calvino? He wrote Invisible Cities, a collection of brief and wonderful accounts of cities. Magical, impossible cities -- cities that do not exist, but ought to.

Fantasy author Catherynne Valente has created a few such cities herself. Thus her Invisible Games: the games that might have been. A story here, a photograph there -- redacted, uncontexted, obscurely indexed.

In 1971 a small advertisement appeared in the back pages of Scientific American. It read, simply:

Never Be Alone Again.

It has been estimated that some thirty-five people responded to the ad, and another seventeen the following year. However, it cannot be ascertained at this point whether these fifty-two participants comprised the entirety of mail-in replies or merely selected out of a larger pool. In either case, each of the fifty-two respondents received a package approximately six weeks after enclosing twelve dollars in an envelope and sending it to a P.O Box in St. Paul Minnesota. The package contained a simple lightboard, various cables, a 103A modem, and a black button that depressed with a satisfying click.

(From The Loneliness Engine.)

Caverns, in contrast, is the story of a game that was never invented. As a child, David Whiteland played a game of dungeon exploration, assembled out of hand-drawn bits of cardboard.

Although I was told at the time that what I was seeing was a copy of a real, commercially-available game, it was over a quarter of a century later that I finally saw the original on which it had been based. By which time I had played it for years, grown up, and made several versions for friends' children.

The "original" that Whiteland eventually discovered was The Sorcerer's Cave, by Peter Donnelly. But Caverns is not The Sorcerer's Cave. Donnelly's game was a solitaire adventure; Caverns has players competing to finish quests (a mechanic taken from a different Donnelly game). More interestingly, Caverns gives an eliminated player the option to keep his hand in, by controlling monsters for the rest of the game. And Whiteland describes the fine game-balance that he remembers from his childhood Caverns set.

Where did these differences come from? New rules are big changes. Game balance comes from months of variation and testing. Someone invented each element of Caverns -- presumably a child, playing the eternal metagame of "Let's try it this way!" But this was no game-design studio; it was a kid's basement. Quite possibly the players didn't think of their work as game design, or testing. They were playing their favorite game. And what came out the other end was a coherent game, recalled by an adult who went on to make sets for more kids.

Whiteland does not include the rules of Caverns on his site. He merely describes them. If you play the game, you will invent it too.



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