• "Halcyon is named for the mythological bird of ancient Greece, said to charm the winds and seas into a calm during the Winter Solstice. It is a spacial action puzzle game and interactive stringed instrument designed specifically for the iPad." Lovely.

Interesting North: Things Rules Do

15 October 2010

I’m going to be speaking at Interesting North in Sheffield in November. My talk – which is only about fifteen minutes long, if I recall right – is going to be called something like Five Things Rules Do, and, at the moment, is summarised thus:

The thing that make games Games isn’t joypads, or scores, or 3D graphics, or little bits of cardboard, or many-sided dice. It’s the rules and mechanics beating in their little clockwork hearts. That may be a somewhat dry reduction of thousands of years of fun, but my aim is to celebrate and explore the many things that games (and other systemic media) do with the rules at their foundation. And, on the way, perhaps change your mind at exactly what rules are for.

Contents subject to change, but I think it’ll be a fun one – and a great event. Perhaps see you there!

  • "Gamification is the wrong word for the right idea. The word for what’s happening at the moment is pointsification. There are things that should be pointsified. There are things that should be gamified. There are things that should be both. There are many, many things that should be neither. It’s important that we make the distinction between the two undertakings because, amidst all this confusion, we’re losing sight of the question of what would happen if we really did apply the deeper powers of game design to more everyday things – if we really did gamify them – and that question is a fascinating, exciting and troubling one. I really hope we get a chance to explore it properly." Margaret, on good form, as ever.

Broken because they were toys, and vice versa.

10 October 2010

Dylan is six or seven, and frustrated that his toys don’t live up to their promise:

If the Etch A Sketch and the Spirograph had really worked they would probably be machines, not toys, they would be part of the way the adult universe operated, and be mounted onto the instrument panels of cars or worn on the belts of policemen. Dylan understood and accepted this. These things were broken because they were toys, and vice versa. They required his pity and patience, like retarded children who’d been entrusted to his care.

Jonathan Lethem – The Fortress of Solitude.

I’m enjoy the book a lot, but that paragraph leapt out at me early on and has been dog-eared since.

Margaret talks a lot about one possible pillar of good game design being “how is this interestingly hard?” I described this to her, and she suggested that what distinguished many (but not all) toys as toys were being things that were interestingly shit.

Of course, not all toys are; many of the very best are just genuinely interesting. I immediately leap to Lego to answer that one. But broken-in-interesting-ways allows for subversion and exploration; enjoying it not despite, but because of brokenness. Difficult-in-interesting-ways allows for mastery. Both are interesting, and worth pursuing.

And yet: reading Dylan’s disappointment, as he realises the Spirograph is just not as tolerant a device as the cover of the box suggests, I felt that same feeling in my gut; the same feeling I felt at six or seven, realised all my efforts with my Etch A Sketch were doomed to being rubbish. Interesting, but broken.

  • ""Future of Music (2010)" is a Mac OS X app that scans your iTunes library and computes the music you are not supposed to listen to anymore based on your preferences. It then helpfully deletes it from iTunes and your hard drive. Skips the recycle bin. Just like other recommender systems, it uses a lot of fancy math (and data from Echo Nest and last.fm) that really doesn't matter in the end. Just click the button and let it take care of your life."
  • "One succeeds because it leverages the player's motivated, explorative, self-driven experience; the other fails because it relies on a hackneyed, disjointed "epic" plotting (told in 3 separate plot-lines via cutscenes) with incongruous settings and 2-dimensional characters. One succeeds because its formal systems directly feed the player's connection to the world and characters; the other fails because its formal systems bear no discernible relationship to the stories the game wants to tell." This is strong stuff from Michael; I am increasingly fed up of the focus on (poorly-told) stories in games.
  • "Know that there are no "accidents" in this game design. Everything you notice about the game, and every subtle interaction that you experience, is intentionally packed with meaning." (Gravitation, still, being my favourite of Rohrer's games, I think).
  • "Crucially, Goodrich entreats the public to note the following: "this change should not directly affect gamers, as it does not fundamentally alter the gameplay." This one statement should cause considerable distress, as it suggests a troubling conclusion about Medal of Honor as a work of public speech.<br />
    <br />
    To wit: it suggests that the Taliban never had any meaningful representation in the game anyway. If a historically, culturally, and geographically specific enemy can simply be recast in the generic cloth of "opposition," then why was it was called "Taliban" in the first place?<br />
    <br />
    And if the Afghan war in which the new Medal of Honor is set was one explicitly meant to drive the Taliban from their strongholds in Afghanistan, why should it matter that the game is set in that nation in the present day at all? In short, how was this Medal of Honor title meant to be a game about this war in particular?" This is a marvellous, critical piece of writing from Bogost.
  • Nice post on Awk basics – most of which I knew, but the examples are still great, especially those involving variables. The links out to the Hacker News and Reddit threads are also full of good stuff.

Links & notes for this month