• "The problem with remakes and ports for the critic, especially those of old beloved games, is emotional baggage. It's difficult to give a cold, measured critique of something you've loved since childhood. How can you give an objective appraisal when every time you hear the game's start-up melody your mind soaks happy in memories of warm endless school holidays, and that delicious, pure, all-encompassing escapism unique to children who play videogames? This game's story is also a part of my story, so it's impossible to get much distance between the two." A lovely paragraph in Simon's review of the DS Chrono Trigger re-release.
  • "Auditorium is about the process of discovery and play. There are no right or wrong answers; there are many ways to solve every puzzle." Sounds gorgeous; looks beautiful. So much loveliness.
  • "Economics has been defined as the science of distributing limited means among unlimited and competing ends. On 12th April, with the arrival of elements of the 30th U.S. Infantry Division, the ushering in of an age of plenty demonstrated the hypothesis that with infinite means economic organization and activity would be redundant, as every want could be satisfied without effort." Remarkable article; fascinating for its subject matter, when it was written, what it describes, and the patterns that hold up inside such a regimented economy. A must-read, really – can't believe it took me so long to get around to it.
  • "Our attempts to bridle the player's freedom of movement and force our meaning onto him are fruitless. Rather, it is a distinct transportative, transformative quality– the ability of the player to build his own personal meaning through immersion in the interactive fields of potential we provide– that is our unique strength, begging to be fully realized." Some great Steve Gaynor; reminds me of Mitch Resnick's "microworld construction kits" all over again.
  • "It's an easy, irresistible, almost childish pleasure: the ground meat dissolved into a dark blood-red sauce until they are one and the same; no hacking, slicing or cutting needed; a slurpy goodness; the oily bolognese hanging on to the slippery pasta; guaranteed joy in a world that's just ruled it out." Recipes for ragu.
  • "Suddenly, instead of Pong, Nolan Bushnell unleashes a stark, monochrome rescue challenge on the world. AVOID MISSING PRINCESS FOR HIGH SCORE burns itself into the brains of a generation. A couple of sequels expand the world of this strange new hero and, keen to bring its popularity to bear on the 2600, Atari execs strong-arm Warren Robinett into populating Adventure with mushroom monsters and making the green dragon friendly." Delightful alterna-history from Margaret in her Offworld column.
  • "Soon enough, amid the daily grind of his obsession, he would see in the game itself a way out of the bleak hole he had fallen into. He would take a clear-eyed, calculating look at what he and his fellow players had been doing all those months—at the countless hours they'd given over to the pursuit of purely virtual but implacably scarce commodities—and he would recognize it not just for the underexploited form of productivity it was but for the highly profitable commercial enterprise it might sustain." Fantastic article from Julian Dibbell on IGE, the massive real-money trading operation.
  • "We will both have to take responsibility for our consumption. A product that keeps working for longer uses less-resources in the end. The key ingredient to all this is quality. To make something well, you know, the best you can do. To go the extra mile that it takes to do that. Every stitch, every zip, every little feature considered. The weakest points made strong. Then, and only then, have we made something that will last the test of time. Guaranteed for a minimum 10 years. Each product will come with a hand me down contract. You will sign who you want to leave the product to. This is legally binding."
  • "Trust begins when I can see the design intention of an application." Great stuff from Rands on how sync should work – namely, in the dumbest way possible – and what building trust into application design looks like.
  • "Throughout most of the year, gaming is distraction and entertainment. November separates the proverbial patriarchs from their upstart offspring. In November, the Gamer! and the With Job! blur. I spend my ill-defined work hours thinking, talking and writing about games. And the time I'm playing games become a form of work – a struggle to keep up no less frenetic than that of the clock-manager in Metropolis." This year's November release schedule was crazier than most, too.
    (tags: games writing )
  • "the brains behind the siduhe bridge decided to ignore all those options and break another record instead. they attached the 3200ft cables to rockets and accurately fired them over the valley, becoming the first people to do so." Woah. The photographs are awesome.

Your guide to surviving the Digg avalanche with WordPress

26 November 2008

My recent talk about what might happen if gamers ran the world made Digg yesterday, and went a bit big. Big to the point that I got a nice email from my host pointing out that my PHP processes were killing the entire shared host that I’m hosted on, and that I needed to rectify this immediately.

The fires were mainly calmed by installing WP-Super-Cache, which did pretty much what it says on the tin. That said, I did learn a few things from the incident. In no particular order:

  • WordPress’ PHP processes for rendering a page are really, really intensive. Most of the time, that’s not a problem, but when you’re being bombarded with hits, it’ll take it’s told. Flat HTML might be the way forward.
  • Super-Cache isn’t exactly difficult to install, but it requires permissions in lots of places. The best advice I can give is to walk through the installation instructions carefully, and when it doesn’t work, go over the troubleshooting guide in readme.txt one step at a time. The few issues I had were resolved by walking through the troubleshooting process.
  • Most importantly, a combination of the two parts above: you should assume that at some point, you’re going to need this kind of caching, and you’re going to need it fast. Installing and configuring WordPress plugins on a server being bombarded with hits really isn’t much fun. Instead, install the caching plugin of your choice when you set your server up, and make sure it’s working at that time. Then, when the horde descends upon your lowly shared host, you can head straight there and click “enable caching”, rather than having to fight fires for an hour when you really should be working, or in the pub. This also means you can configure the thing to not cache your feed, which is a useful thing to be able to do; I’m about to head off and do that now.

Everything appears to have cooled off now, and I’m not getting any more emails from Joyent about my usage. To Joyent’s credit, they were helpful at explaining the problem and tolerant of the time it took for me to fix things, which was appreciated. And next time I get an absurd amount of traffic, with any luck, I’ll be ready for it.

If Gamers Ran The World – my talk from Gamecity ’08, now online

24 November 2008

Writing up talks is hard work. Anyhow, I thought you’d be interested to know that my talk from Gamecity ’08, the Nottingham game festival (which was, frankly, excellent) is now available online for you to read. I was due to give a talk to a more general audience than I normally do, so I decided to run with a slightly more general topic, and imagined a 45-year-old standing for office as a premier in 2018:

They’re 45 in 2018 when they stand for office – that means they were born in 1973. They would have been four when Taito released Space Invaders came out; seven when Pac Man came out. In 1985, when they were 12, Nintendo would launch the NES in the west. At 18, just as they would have been heading to University, the first NHL game came out for the Genesis/Megadrive and might consumed many a night in the dorm. At 22, the Playstation was launched. At 26, they could have bought a PS2 at launch, ; 22 when the Playstation came out; 26 when they bought a launch PS2. At 31, they might have taken up World of Warcraft with their friends.

They would have been a gamer all their lives. Not someone who once played videogames, trotting out the same anecdote about “playing Asteroids once” in interviews; someone for whom games were another part of their lives, a primary, important medium. Someone who understood games.

And if that was the case, what might they have learned?

The resulting thoughts were interesting, and led to some good discussion and (I think) some happy audiences. I hope you enjoy it too.

Read the full talk here; feedback, as ever, is welcome.

Paul Ferenc’s pistol

23 November 2008

Far Cry 2's Africa

Paul Ferenc died today.

I met Paul in some ex-pat bar by a lagoon. He had work, and I needed a friend – or the closest I could get to a friend in this country. He used to be in the IDF; now, like the rest of us, he was a gun for hire in this mess of a country, his hair bleached by the African sun. We worked together on quite a few jobs. But our relationship was mainly characterised by absence; I’d not see him for days at a time, only occasionally bumping into him at safe houses when he had work. Always doing push-ups; I never understood how he didn’t go mad in there on his own.

I think we all might be mad already.

He saved my life countless times; dragging me to safety, covering me with gunfire whilst I reset dislocated bones, yanked slugs out of my arm with my multi-tool. And I returned the favour; often, I’d see the blue cloud rising from the smoke grenades he carried with him for emergencies, and run to his aid.

He was a tough guy. Nothing a syrette or two of morphine couldn’t sort out; always back on his feet in no time.

Today, I was off to destroy some compressors in a scrapyard; Paul reckoned we could cause more havoc if I got him a timetable for fuel convoys to the junkyard. It seemed like a reasonable deal. Most of his schemes weren’t too bad, but I baulked at the time he seemed to be financing retiring to Thailand through my sweat.

I got him the timetable, even if it did involve destroying half of a fuel depot out north. He suggested I meet him after I’d made a mess of the junkyard.

With the compressor gone, I headed northwards, ducking the machine-gun fire sputtering through the jungle. Through my scope, I saw Paul, shotgun blazing. Clearly, the convoy was well guarded. I lost sight of him, distracted by two mercs with RPKs; by the time my private gunfight was over, I couldn’t see Paul.

Then I saw the blue smoke.

I darted over to him. He looked in a bad way – he always looked in a bad way, to be honest – and I had morphine to spare. I gave him a shot, waited for the glint in his eyes to return and for him to spring up. Nothing. He asked for another, and I yanked the cap off with my teeth, drove it into the vein in his neck. Nothing. His eyes began to roll, vacantly.

It looked bad this time. I could probably spare him another syrette, but I was going to have to keep some for myself. The grip of his pistol jutted out of his jacket, and I began to thing about alternatives to just leaving him here.

One more shot, straight into the neck. His eyes rolled back for the last time, and he was still. No need for the pistol; no need for any more morphine. I closed his eyes.

There was nothing much else I could do. Life ends out here bloody and quickly, and I had to get back to the town. He’d been a good buddy, if not exactly a friend. I dropped my Russian-made pistol and took his large Desert Eagle from his waistband. Something to remember him by.

The gun was corroded, practically mud-brown; no wonder he’d gone down in the firefight at the convoy. But it was all that was left of Paul, now; I squashed it into my holster and drove towards Pala.

On the way there, a small group of mercs opened fire on me. Leaping from my jeep, I opened fire with the .50 pistol. Three shots and the rusty gun jams. I duck behind the hood, slapping the gun with my other hand, racking the slide to clear the jammed cartridge. No-one would come for me if I went down; my only backup was lying dead in the jungle, full of lead and morphine. All he left me was this gun, and it was likely to get myself killed.

The stuck cartridge cleared, and I opened fire again.

I arrived at Pala a while later. Paul Ferenc’s pistol lay in the dust at the cockfights, its slide half-locked with rust, its last victims a few feet away.

I went looking for new work, a new friend, and a new gun.

I’ll be writing something more substantial about Far Cry 2 in the near future. It’s a world that’s immersed me far more than I’d imagined it ever could, and documenting this morning’s events seemed like a good way of starting to move towards talking about it.

Links & notes for this month