Aug 30 2005

The Importance of Being And Ernest

I’m deep in research-and-games mode at the moment, for no less than four money-gigs, one long-term project, enough game reviews to fill a small shed, and something so obscure that I’ll be amazed if I ever manage to actually sell it to anyone. Maybe I’ll be able to sell it to something like The Escapist which, while having some dodgy moments (they’ve got me writing for them! Bud-dum-tssch!), are actually churning out the good stuff on a regular basis. (How long can they maintain?) Greg Costikyan’s almost-too-long-to-read -in-one-sitting ‘Death To The Games Industry’ is just such a piece of excellent writing. Dull to those who have no interest in the cogs of development and marketing and dynamite to those who do, Costikyan is arguing, without obvious fault, that the current situation is wrong and broken:

“The publishers would have you believe that “we know what works.” In other words, that all of the local maxima possible for “the video game” have already been discovered.

But this is insane. Innovative, compelling novels are published every year, and that’s a medium that’s 300 years old. We’re only 30 years into the gaming revolution. Additionally, games are an enormously flexible form: They’ve been created with every technology from the Neolithic to the modern. And software is an enormously flexible medium, too; if you can specify it, you can implement it. We’ve gone from three genres to dozens in a few short decades, but we’ve charted only the merest coastline of a vast, virgin continent.

And we need to keep exploring it, or we’re going to get stale.”

It’ll be interesting to see whether developers (and publishers) will continue prove him right, and whether they’ll do something about it.

Elsewhere amid the mass of things worth reading on the web I see Mr Campbell also gets rather cross with points of view, and makes me play Goldeneye again. For the second time this month. And Ernest Adams over on Gamasutra is quite earnest in his Gamer’s Bill of Rights.

Also in the name of research I’m currently reading The Philosophy of Boredom by Lars Svendsen, which I am finding informative and infuriating. Informative because Svendsen’s book is incredibly well researched and, like all enviable scholars, he has a knack of digging up brilliantly apt quotes from the obscurest of authors and employing them in a manner that is both jolly clever and pleasantly educational. Infuriating because, well, I always feel a bit embarrassed when a writer produces something which is conversationally philosophical and then ends up wheeling out Heidegger and starts talking about ‘Being and Time’ and all the other obfuscation that the old Nazi produced. Yes, he was the other greatest thinker of the 20th century, but you can’t just go waving him about willy-nilly. People get offended, confused and disinterested when the existentialisms get exposed where they’re not needed. And that’s no use to anyone. Incredibly tedious metaphysicians need to be deployed only in times of extreme need, and Svendsen’s book could, I think, have done without the old fella. He pollutes it. Maybe. I’ll write more about this when I’ve finished and digested it. Tasty books.


Aug 29 2005

Mobile Computing

A Flickr of some dude’s crazy van interior.

“Here are photos of my uncle’s van, in which he installed a couple Skylab simulator panels as well as a computer and other strangeness to complete the look of a space-van-craft circa 1975.”

Via BoingBoing.


Aug 28 2005

Evil Interiors

A number of grim movie sets have been meticulously recreated in the Unreal Engine by artist Palle Torsson. Go and take a look at Evil Interiors for eerie recreation of The Exorcist, The Shining, Reservoir Dogs and more. There’s something about the uncanny nature of them that reminds me of Robert Bechtle‘s paintings.

“You’ve always been the caretaker.”

Via Pixelkill.


Aug 28 2005

Cannonball

“His son, also a human cannonball, says Mr Smith is the first person to be fired across an international border.”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4192448.stm


Aug 26 2005

Atomic Portraits

From a gallery of watercolours of nuclear test explosions at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, as commissioned by the US Navy.


Aug 24 2005

Procedural Dragons

Here Be Dragons’ misty VR world is created procedurally, and both creatures and spaces share similar digital ‘genes’ in the algorithms used to generate them. This will, Fumanski hopes, create a coherency in auto-generating a virtual world that has not been seen before at this level of sophistication. It is “an experiment in using emergent and genetic algorithms in generating virtual spaces” and that’s something that will likely become more important as larger virtual worlds are created in the future.

My Gamasutra news column continues to chart the fuzzy edges of game development.


Aug 23 2005

Possible Futures

Sure, I’m going to talk about how great and important these old games were, but what I want you to take from it is that old games have something to teach us about where the future may lie. I am not one of those navel-gazing retro-heads who pines for lost pleasures of yore. No, I pine for the future I was promised by the past. Here’s why.

More Escapist foolery from me. Hey, look! I even manage to make their retro issue all futurist.


Aug 23 2005

Journalism

The Triforce criticise a piece of videogame writing by Tim Dowling, published in last weekend’s Telegraph.

“Frankly, I’m more disturbed by the idea of adults playing videogames,” says Dowling as he sets the scene for his barely-interested readers.

The games are, in typically hamfisted fashion, San Andreas, Def Jam Fight For NY, NARC and er Hooligans. Naturally he’s shocked by the horridness.

What would his article have been like if he’d played Perimeter, Psychonauts, Pikmin and Paper Mario? I’ll tell you what it would have been like: uncommissioned and unwritten.

Yet I suppose the Telegraph is simply catering for its readers; wanting to tell parents of 2.4 what dangers to immature minds lie like moral landmines in the videogame landscape. I imagine that Dowling wanted to dispel the illusion, under which he and many other parents seem to fall, that games are still y’know, for kids. (Digital Skipping Ropes, Sony’s Hopscotch and British Bulldog Online? I wish.)

But perhaps this journalist, or his commissioning editor, should have been a bit less cavalier with the reality. The reality in which you can’t buy online without a credit card (stolen from Mum’s purse). The reality in which there are age guidelines for all games. A reality in which games aren’t trying to pander to anyone’s illusions about what they should or shouldn’t be – just as films aren’t all trying to be Very Moral Lessons About Manners.

Like Daddy’s bookshelf full of proper literature, games are packed with death and bosoms. Perhaps more pointedly, if Dowling’s ten-year-old had been allowed some of those pointless videogames, then there are plenty that don’t feature those things at all.

Speaking of ignorance, here is a conversation from a while back that I had a with a 30-something man who shall remain nameless (since I can’t remember his name).

Man: So you’re a videogamer?

Me: Yes.

Man: I don’t know much about that… So, which videogame bird would you fuck?

Me (going with the banter): Well, I don’t know. Jade from Beyond Good & Evil, if she’d have me.

Man, after short pause: Lara Croft has big tits, eh?

Me: Yes.


Aug 23 2005

Ravens

BBC News as a small feature on the The Ravenmaster at the tower of London:

“I wouldn’t have it any other way. The ravens are part of the family. They all have their own characters – they’re very intelligent and mischievous.”

So intelligent, in fact, that one of them – the self-appointed leader, Thor – can even speak.

He started imitating Derrick, who often receives a “good morning” from him – as, apparently, did a delighted Russian President Vladimir Putin when he visited the Tower.

The arcane details are what make Britain so beautifully absurd.


Aug 22 2005

Celestia

Yes, this morning really is all about The Things My Mates Linked To. This time it’s Rob Hale‘s fault. He’s linked me to Celestia, which is an astronomy toy a little like the Google Earth app, but this time for the whole galaxy. I’ve been flying between the stars and even pondering the planets that were recently discovered orbiting in distant systems. Actually ‘pondering’ is a bit strong, maybe ‘blinking at in infinite incomprehension and moving on’.