• "The ways in which people interact with computation are changing swiftly as we move into more casual relationships with our digital services on tablets, big screens, and across social networks. We believe we have some compelling answers about how digital experiences will evolve into these new contexts. Please, follow along with us and explore these playful, dynamic instruments of discovery together." These guys are going to be worth keeping a very beady eye on; what a team.
  • "I have been an avid gamer since the advent of Pong in 1972. At their best, videogames strike me as a form of art. Like all art, they can augment outer reality and shape our inner reality—but they do this by the very nature of the fact that they are not reality but a Place Apart. Being awestruck at "Halo" does not entail awe any more than "grieving" for Cordelia entails grief. Rather, art at its most serious is a sort of exercise, a formative practice for life—like meditation, only more fun." WSJ review of Reality is Broken; negative, but acute.

The next step on the journey

21 February 2011

Two years ago, I joined Berg – or Schulze & Webb, as it was still called then. I was the first employee not called Schulze or Webb.

Looking back, February 2009 seems like an age away, when it’s only two years. And yet: so much has happened at the company in that time; just being in the studio to experience that work, those people, those moments, has been a privilege.

Sad news: towards the end of this month, I’m leaving. Sad because the studio stereo is always playing good tunes, the work is great, the people – and let’s face it, not “people”, but “my friends” – are genuinely brilliant. I am not leaving because things are bad; I am leaving when things are, by anyone’s standards, great.

I’m going to be joining Hide & Seek. My job title will be game designer. It’s a company brimful with great work, great clients, and brilliant people.

If you know me, or have read this site for a while – and have followed the links, the posts, the ramblings, the talks, my interests – then I’m sure you’ll understand exactly why I’m taking this step. It’s a great opportunity, with a small, growing, exciting company, that taps right into my passions, and asks me to put my money where my mouth is. It’s designing games in their broadest and best sense: digital, physical, table, street, paper, plastic. The whole, wonderful, broad church.

In his enormously kind post on the Berg site, Matt quite rightly talks about the way we take culture into the world as we travel between destinations. I’m excited about what Hide & Seek are going to teach me, what I’ll learn every day; I’m also excited by what’s in my travelbag to take to them – my strange mishmash of code and technology and design and books and writing. Who knows what’ll happen when we put the whole shebang together, but I have a feeling it’ll be good.

And so, happysad for the past but looking to the future – in a manner that feels like there should be a German portmanteau for it – this is the next step on the journey.

I know that I shall miss everyone at Berg dreadfully, and I shall watch them all fondly, eagerly, from afar, excited for their future. I hope it is as brilliant as it deserves to be.

  • "I’ve been doing some experiments using Processing to generate different patterns and sequences, a projector, and a camera pointing to the projection screen. Some of them are using a technique called procedural light painting, some other combining slit-scan with projected patterns. I’m also very interested in the low repeatability of some of these experiments, like the picture above, due to the noise introduced by the asynchrony of generation, communication and output means. Maybe we can call it Generative Photography." Really nice; interesting overlaps with some of the stuff from Shadow Catchers (in terms of structuring the capture, rather than the release, of light).
  • "It was May 1991. She was 89 years old. She often spoke of herself in the third person. She had a strapping male secretary named Horst." Jordan Mechner interviewed Leni Riefenstahl. Blimey.
  • "‘In the winter dusk, at successive stations, we peer out to see the wives waiting behind steering wheels, children scuffling in back seats. Daddies descend and are met. Each set of participants knows only of its own little scene … Each welcomed father ought not to learn of the existence of dozens of others along the line, any more than a prisoner should hear of the execution of his fellows.’" Joe Moran on "Notes from Overground". This sounds great.
  • “Cartography used to be both an art and a science. I wanted to return to that.” This was my present to myself, as a souvenir, from SF. Looking forward to reading it properly – especially all the areas I never had a chance to visit – and can already confirm the maps are gorgeous. But really, it's about the whole package.
  • "If thousands and thousands of people are making games, then it's entirely unimportant if 99% of them are absolute garbage. That top 1% will still consist of plenty of games for us to play, and they'll be great." Lots of great quotations in this smart post from Bill Harris; this is just one, but I recommend the whole thing.

Blog All Dog-Eared Pages: In Praise of Shadows, Junichiro Tanizaki

16 February 2011

Matt Jones lent me this essay by Junichiro Tanizaki after I wrote about the soft, shadow displays of the Kindle over at the Berg website (and also, earlier, about patina).

In Praise Of Shadows is about several things: architecture, culture, and light. Tanizaki meanders around the topic of “shadows”, and the way soft, subtle, darkness is such an important part of Japanese culture. He ruminates on toilets, and lacquerware, on Noh, and on tradition.

It’s a rambling tour, but one with much to recommend it. Tanizaki was writing in 1933; he describes himself as “old”, but was 47 when he wrote the essay. Perhaps his affection for tradition made him feel older than he was. It’s also an interesting piece of writing, given its focus on the gap between West and East, and the Westernisation of Japanese society that was perceived as progress. It takes on an interesting resonance when you consider its place between two world wars.

Very much recommended – it’s a very brief read, and nice to read someone very comfortable with meandering in such a loosely structured manner. Thanks, Matt.

And now: some quotations that stood out.

p.14 – on how simple cultural artefacts reflect and influence so much of a culture:

To take a trivial example near at hand: I wrote a magazine article recently comparing the writing brush with the fountain pen, and in the course of it I remarked that if the device had been invented by the ancient Chinese or Japanese it would surely have a tufted end like our writing brush. The ink would not have been this bluish color but rather black, something like India ink, and it would have been made to seep down from the handle into the brush. And since we would have then found it inconvenient to write on Western paper, something near Japanese paper – even under mass production, if you will – would have been most in demand. Foreign ink and pen would not be as popular as they are; the talk of discarding our system of writing for Roman letters would be less noisy; people would still feel an affection for the old system. But more than that: our thought and our literature might not be imitating the West as they are, but might have pushed forward into new regions quite on their own. An insignificant little piece of writing equipment, when one thinks of it, has had a vast, almost boundless influence on our culture.

p.17 – on recording, and how the arts change to accommodate media:

Japanese music is above all a music of reticence, of atmosphere. When recorded, or amplified by a loudspeaker, the greater part of its charm is lost. In conversation, too, we prefer the soft voice, the understatement. Most important of all are the pauses. Yet the phonograph and radio render these moments of silence utterly lifeless. And so we distort the arts themselves to curry favor for them with the machines.

p.20 – on darkness and dirt:

I suppose I shall sound terrible defensive if I say that Westerners attempt to expose every speck of grime and eradicate it, while we Orientals carefully preserve and even idealize it. Yet for better or for worse we do love things that bear the mars of grime, soot, and weather, and we love the colors and the sheen that call to mind the past that made them. Living in these old houses among these old objects is in some mysterious way a source of peace and repose.

p.32 – on old paintings, found in the dark alcoves of temples:

The lack of clarity, far from disturbing us, seems to rather suit the painting perfectly. For the painting here is nothing more than another delicate surface upon which the faint, frail light can ply; it performs precisely the same function as the sand-textured wall. This is why we attach such importance to age and patina. A new painting, even one done in ink monochrome or subtle pastels, can quite destroy the shadows of an alcove, unless it is selected with the greatest care.

p.58 – on the Miyako hotel, furnished in a Western style:

Light is not used for reading or writing or sewing but for dispelling the shadows in the farthest corners, and this runs against the basic idea of the Japanese room. Something is salvaged when a person turns off the lights at home to save money, but at inns and restaurants there is inevitably too much light in the halls, on the stairs, in the doorway, the gate, the garden. The rooms and the water and stones outside become flat and shallow.

p.62 – on age:

There are those who say that when civilization progresses a bit further transportation facilities will move into the skies and under the ground, and that our streets will again be quiet, but I know perfectly well that when that day comes some new device for torturing the old will be invented.

  • "<i>Zeitgeber</i> (from German for "time giver," or "synchronizer") is any exogenous (external) cue that synchronizes an organism's endogenous (internal) time-keeping system (clock) to the earth's 24-hour light/dark cycle. The strongest zeitgeber, for both plants and animals, is light. Non-photic zeitgebers include temperature, social interactions, pharmacological manipulation and eating/drinking patterns. To maintain clock-environment synchrony, zeitgebers induce changes in the concentrations of the molecular components of the clock to levels consistent with the appropriate stage in the 24-hour cycle, a process termed entrainment."
  • "To celebrate the appearance of A Humument App on iPhone I shall shortly add a dozen or so newly revised pages." Awesome: the magically-changing book is taking shape.
  • Twenty-two lines, ten words a line, just like the blocks.
  • "The DJ Hero franchise will follow Guitar Hero into the flames, publisher Activision has confirmed.

    Speaking at an investor call today, Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg explained that its entire music division was to close. It's not clear exactly how this will impact DJ Hero developer Freestyle Games nor Guitar Hero team Vicarious Visions, though the publisher confirmed that 500 jobs would be cut company-wide during restructuring."

    Idiots. Not being able to flog something to death on an annual basis doesn't make it bad; indeed, both DJ Hero games were superb, rivalling the early Harmonix Guitar Heroes. A shame, especially for everyone at Freestyle. I do hate the games industry sometimes.

Coming to history anew

10 February 2011

The strangest affect of my possession of an iPad (I do not have an iPhone) is that I have become my own consumer. Each night after midnight when the daily page first announces itself I consult, somewhat furtively (even though alone), the Oracle that I have made. I am often surprised by pages made long ago and almost forgotten, as well as by the sometimes uncanny predictions they offer their maker.

The artist Tom Phillips on reading a book he made in app form. Or rather: reading the daily-page of A Humument, coming to it anew.

This isn’t about the technology of display – the Ipad. This is about the the way delivery changes the relationship a reader has with a text, be it one they wrote, or just one they’ve subscribed to.

And: having your own things returned to you, bit by bit, is always striking. See the Photojojo Time Capsule, or Twitshift, for examples of this in other media: your own history, trickling back to you.

Links & notes for this month