Barbetween was originally written as an entry for Shufflecomp, a truly inspired interactive fiction game jam run by Sam Kabo Ashwell last spring. It challenged its participants to create games around songs that randomly assigned to them (based, in turn, on shuffled-up playlists submitted by other entrants). My playlist included “Between the Bars” by Elliott Smith, whose work I was not previously acquainted with. That’s what this game is based on.
I arrived at the transformed title because “The Barbetween Age” sounded like a legitimate name of a Myst level, to me. And that was relevant because I chose to build the game as a sort of art installation within Seltani, which Zarf’s described here before. The conceit is that the game is a “real” sculpture found on one of the byways of the Myst universe, meant to feel more like a visitable thing carved out of a real location, rather than simply a program running on a website. I tried to accomplish this by including in the work some subtle, perhaps surprising asynchronous communication with other visitors to the site, about which I shall say no more here.
Speaking of the 2012 No Show Conference, all twelve of its talks and presentations are now online for public enjoyment and enrichment. Visit its presentation page with any Flash-capable browser, and click a talk’s Continue reading button to make its video player pop up.
There are still a few unclaimed songs in Kevin’s Apollo 18 IF Tribute Album project. It’s particularly needful of a short work of interactive fiction that would complement the song “Mammal”, but there are a bunch of one-move “Fingertips” games that need to be written as well.
The first-draft deadline remains set at February 12. Those who find themselves suddenly inspired to create a They Might Be Giants fan-game at tremendous velocity should feel free to claim a remaining slot and follow the instructions on the original post.
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?
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.
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.)
Interactive Fiction (a.k.a. text adventures), a curious cross-medium blending videogames and literature, defined computer entertainment at the start of the PC era. While it’s been decades its commercial heyday, the web has allowed passionate fans and creators to revive the medium through a resurgence of groundbreaking new work.
However, few gamers — even fans of more mainstream adventure games — know that this movement even exists.
In this ten-minute video, Jason McIntosh demonstrates some examples of modern interactive fiction, ponders the challenges that the medium faces in today’s digital-game landscape, and offers some starting points for players first discovering this unique kind of game.
The Interactive Fiction Database appeared a couple of times in the video without overt fanfare. To find, download, or (if available) play online any of the IF games I mentioned in this video — and hundreds and hundreds more — pay it a visit.
Producer / Writer / Editor / Host
Lindsay Gonzales, Greg Reimann
Lee Stewart, Julia Tenney
“Action Castle” Players
Ruth Alfasso, Denis Moskowitz, Gavin Schnitzler, Karl von Laudermann
Besides sitting for an interview, Nick Montfort also let Lee and I film various clips in his curio-laden office. The Apple IIc, the retail-box IF antiques, and the various other relics of bygone electronic games are all part of his own collection.
Andrew Plotkin helped sanity-check this video’s content, through its several drafts. (And also sat for an interview.)
Jason Scott didn’t have any direct involvement in the production of this video, but we did have some nice conversations about video production between my last major effort and this one. Mainly, I wish to mention that his own breathtakingly ambitious, feature-length (and then some) documentary about interactive fiction’s history, Get Lamp, is going on sale very soon, and it’s beautiful. You should go buy a copy.
Yes, I did in fact write an IF “game” that became the backdrop for my host segments. If you’re very good I might make a short followup video about it, and about Inform 7 (the language I used) in general.
In the brief shot of the two of us talking, Nick holds a copy of this book. View its cover at full-size to properly appreciate the majesty. That clip’s original audio (not present in this version) was part of a comedic segue between Andy’s interview and Nick’s, so he pulled this volume off his shelves to use as a wackiness-increasing prop. The entire gag ended up in the post-production trash heap after I decided to go with the shorter format. Luckily, the clip is too dark to make the book very visible, so I used a little of it as a lead-in anyway. Call it an easter egg.
My inspiration for cutting the video’s length from 30 minutes to only ten came from my discovery of Put This On, an excellent, funny, and geek-friendly new video series about men’s clothing and fashion by Jesse Thorn and Adam Lisagor. When I pulled up the first episode, I unconsciously looked at the countdown timer in the corner, saw 10:00, and thought, Well, I’m skeptical about a show about clothes. But it does look kind of interesting, and what the hell, I have ten minutes to spare.
And then a light went on: I’ve been asking too much. It made sense to shoot for 30 minutes when I thought of The Gameshelf as a TV show that I also happened to publish on the web. But, I realized, that’s view proved both outdated and myopic. If I will only agree to sit still in ten-minute chunks, then why would I create videos demanding more time than that?
I came to this decision after starting production months ago with a half-hour script, so more time and effort ended up on the cutting room floor than I’d like. That said, I find this abbreviated format far superior for the web-based publication that The Gameshelf has evolved into. Expect most future video work from me to stay YouTube-sized.
I hope you enjoy both this new format and the video itself. Feel free to let me know what you think!
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.
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.
My bite-sized followup: It's only natural that the topic slid from "How do we increase IF's audience" to "how can we make money from IF", but in retrospect I regret not pushing back against this reframing more than I did. Making IF lucrative is an interesting subject, but it's an entirely separate one from the one in the panel's title.
My standing answer to the money question since PAX weekend is: Who cares? Those two words unpack into many more, but that's not what you're here to see. Maybe I'll get into it more in a future post.
Another IF Suite panel, this one on Sunday afternoon. From left to right: IF authors Jim Munroe, Dave Gilbert, and Aaron Reed.
Sadly, this video cuts out after 20 minutes because it suffered the most from my hard-way learning about the Flip's battery limitations. But, you can still see what Zarf was describing in his writeup about how the topic inexorably morphed into an extension of the previous day's panel's conversation on the balance between evangelizing IF as an art form, and profiting from it by way of game sales.
Hosted by MIT's Nick Montfort, part of his regular series of guest presentations on digital writing. On Monday evening, IF authors Jeremy Freese and Emily Short read from their works (Violet and Alabaster, respectively). The "interactors" providing the text input are Jenni Polodna and Kevin Jackson-Mead, and all four sit down for some Q&A after the readings. (Not long after, alas, it once again cuts out suddenly due to the camcorder batteries giving way.)
The on-screen text is a little hard to follow at first, as I try to get both it and Jeremy in-frame, with the result of making Jenni's input invisible. I give up and focus on the screen after a few minutes, and it becomes easier to follow thereafter.
GET LAMP post-premiere panel
Finally, a little bonus content: Jason Scott has posted the following footage from the panel he held after screening GET LAMP, his IF documentary, on Friday evening (one of the two IF-related events on the official PAX schedule that weekend). Panelists, left to right: Dave Lebling, Don Woods, Brian Moriarty, Andrew Plotkin, Nick Montfort, and Steve Meretzky, all of whom appeared in the film. (Lebling, Moriarty, and Meretzky are all IF authors from the medium's golden era, and Woods is co-author of Colossal Cave Adventure, the game from the 1970s that started it all.)
I am not aware of any online footage from Friday evening's "Storytelling in the world of interactive fiction" panel (the other official-PAX one). If it's out there somewhere, let me know, and I'll gladly add it to this post.
 While Emily led and managed Alabaster's development, the final work was additionally co-authored by John Cater, Rob Dubbin, Eric Eve, Elizabeth Heller, Jayzee, Kazuki Mishima, Sarah Morayati, Mark Musante, Adam Thornton, and Ziv Wities.
An short introduction to interactive fiction (text adventures, such as Adventure and Infocom's games), the history of the form, how they are played, and a little about what's involved in writing them. With Nick Montfort, http://nickm.com Video by Talieh Rohani for the 2009 Jornada Nacional de Literatura in Passo Fundo, Brazil.
Nothing you or I don't know, but good for the general audience. Plus, you can see some of Nick's hardware collection.
Well, we only ended up doing one episode this year, contrary to my hopes last fall. But production of the next show is well underway, and it's as different from the Diplomacy show as that one was different from the shows that came before it. Once it's done, I'm going to release it in a brand-new format that, I hope, will make the show much more watchable, without sacrificing any show quality. You'll know what I'm talking about once you see it.
I'm hoping that 2010 will be the year I can actually bring some regularity to this show's production schedule, enough so that I can say "I make a TV show about games" without feeling obligated to qualify that with some statement about its near-nonexistence as a regular series. I do indeed have a plan for making this happen that is better than "OK, let's just work harder at it." But, in the interest of not jinxing myself, I'll save further yapping about any new process for when I actually deliver something.
To tide you over, please enjoy this historical confection that PeterB over at TLeaves dug up. Wargames! A unique and intriguing hobby.
If you enjoy my game videos, perhaps you will like this. The idea for this literally woke me up in the pre-dawn hours last Saturday, and I found the time to put it together last night.
There actually is a game connection, here. I was inspired to try applying the attitude of certain contemporary reviewers of very old video games -- who often make little to no effort to place their comments in the games' historical context -- and apply it to a very old movie. It flew off the rails from there, of course, for the sake of comedy. But, there it is.
Another little bit of behind-the-scenesery for you: I had a great deal of fun raiding The Prelinger Archives, a collection of public domain films, to fill out the Diplomacy episode's visuals. I expect it to be a well I'll return to often for future episodes.
One film I borrowed from extensively was Conquer by the Clock, a jawdropping American propaganda film from the WWII era. Not only is its delirious visual motif of belligerent, floating clocks wonderful (and quite useful for recontextualizing), but its message is a fascinating window into the psychology of a nation completely mobilized for war. Of particular note is the lesson that every time you take a break from work, soldiers die (and/or go insane). Think of that, the next time you take a minute to screw around reading game blogs!
On another note, I've added Twitter and Facebook links to the bottom of every post on this site, as well as a few other small design changes. Feel free to let me know what you think of them!
I just happened across the homepage of DoKashiteru, a duo whose music I have used liberally in recent video projects - Gameshelf included. They put much of their work into the Creative Commons under remix-friendly licenses, so I plan on continuing to use it as an aural background for my own stuff. (Before today I knew the band's music via its page on ccMixter, the site I raid for all my legally clean background music needs.)
They really hit the spot for the kind of blip-happy electronica I'm quite fond of, and I encourage you give them a listen. They make videos, too: here is Sander, one of the pair, giving you a lesson on how to torture some chunky sounds out of an ancient, analog Moog synthesizer.
As my disheveled and shaky-cammed head at the top of the above video explains, our shoot of the Diplomacy episode featured a "confessional cam" that players could operate in private in order to spill their guts about the game, even while it was still going on. They made great use of it, as did certain members of the crew, and other persons who happened to be in the house at the time...
I ended up not using any of this footage in the final episode, but it was too good to just leave on the cutting-room floor. So, I glued most of these bits together into a bonus episode, complete with a surprise twist ending. Enjoy!
Because I'm always a fan of mixing games with creative video work, and because the folks at Looney Labs have been friends of the Gameshelf crew for far longer than there's been a Gameshelf, I have to share this ad by Alex Bradley for the company's newest game, Are You the Traitor?
In truth, I have yet to play (or see) this game myself. Comments from those who have are welcome!
Here's a video of Christopher running and narrating one 11-year-old student's game, a Guitar Hero clone she wrote with Processing in 90 minutes.
I am immensely proud of Christopher and his students. He's doing what I've wanted to do for years, and what I think there should be a lot more of. There is no reason except for institutional timidity that programming isn't taught as a basic course in every school in this country, and that's a crying shame.
Ten years ago, before I became Yet Another Software Engineer, I spent a year "teaching computer" at an elementary school in Hermon, Maine. I chose to subvert the curriculum (how to type and use Microsoft Word, mostly) by trying to teach computer science concepts instead. I will never forget the moment when one student, in the classroom of second-graders struggling over a three-line Logo program I had them try to type in and execute, Finally Got It. "My turtle pooped!" he cried, and everyone crowded around to witness as his Logo-turtle successfully drew a straight line. Within minutes, not only was every kid's turtle also pooping, but they discovered that changing the number changed the line's length, a fact they started excitedly telling each other about with no prompting from me. I spent the remainder of the period suggesting other things they could try, with the kids spreading each bit of new programming knowledge amongst themselves. I have never had an experience quite like this in my life since.
Programming exercises and rewards logical thinking and problem-solving in a way that no xeroxed sheet of math problems can. Any kid capable of doing the latter should also be exposed to the former. As we enter an increasingly ludocentric culture, I'm hopeful to see technologies like Processing, and people like Christopher, allowing children to develop their minds and creative powers through game-making. I just wish that it stretched beyond a few lucky kids who happen to live in the right places.
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 collegehumor.com make me die laughing.
Die! With metaphorical-nonmetaphorical irony!
But they're all videogame fake movies, so it's okay.
This is the first Episode of my show Jmac's Arcade that I've made since 2007, which means it's also the first one I've made since the launch of this blog. I hope you enjoy it. If you do, you will probably like the previous five videos as well.
Making this also gave me a chance to stretch my video-editing muscles as I head into a fairly ambitious Gameshelf-related project. More news on that as it happens.
Starting to edit footage for the next couple of Gameshelf episodes. This is the first time I've done editing since launching this blog, so expect me to post some fun scraps from the cutting room floor while I work.
While I'm here, lemme close a couple of tabs that have been open in my own RSS reader for a while:
From Play This Thing we learn of Ulillillia, a young man who creates deeply analytical/obsessive videos of digital game play. He narrates them with a bright drawl and subtle humor that reminds me of coming across intriguing radio stations while driving around rural Maine at night. Here is his YouTube channel, which includes his 20-part walkthrough of Ultima: Exodus, amongst other things.