• "…one point I wanted to make, to all those agencies that have decided that making products is the future. That's a laudable and intelligent aim, but it took five years for BERG to go from here to here. And they're really good. They had to be focused and ambitious, working really hard. This isn't stuff you can just chuck out the back of a creative technology department  Just a thought." Yeah, there is that.
  • "Little Printer lives in your home, bringing you news, puzzles and gossip from friends. Use your smartphone to set up subscriptions and Little Printer will gather them together to create a timely, beautiful mini-newspaper." Little Printer sees the light of day. So, so excited to finally see it in the world; can't wait to see it in other homes. (And: beautiful work on the design – industrial, brand, web, the whole package).
  • "His base is too good, and I don’t have the choke. He proceeds to take a more dominant position, scores points, and my body is burning from the effort. The choke he applies toward the end of the match is almost a formality, since I’m far too tired to do much more than hang on. Second place. Second place because I’m learning the triangle choke, not learning Jiu Jitsu. Chipp never wins tournaments." A fantastic piece of writing, about beat-em-ups and combat sports, and the mindset you get into as you play both. I'm not a combat sports man, but it nails some of the inside of your brain when you've played a lot of beat-em-ups, for sure.
  • "But to my eye, GIF is the most popular animation and short film format that's ever existed. It works on smartphones in millions of people's pockets, on giant displays in museums, in web browsers on a newspaper website. It finds liberation in constraints, in the same way that fewer characters in our tweets and texts freed us to communicate more liberally with one another. And it invites participation, in a medium that's both fun and accessible, as the pop music of moving images, giving us animations that are totally disposable and completely timeless."
  • "My wife and I talk about this. We talk about the protocol of the fertility clinic. We talk about her support group, and failure to produce. We talk about adoption, which is expensive and ambiguous. We talk about giving up on the process and living our lives without the ghosts of unconceived children (the most adorable ghosts there are). We talk, and talk, and wait." Powerful, sad, brave writing from Paul Ford. Sometimes, you wish things were nice for the good people in the world.
  • "I needed to get up to speed with doing recursive node structures so I coded up a project that would put a dot on the screen. When you tapped this dot, it would create a bunch of orbiting child-dots. These children could also be tapped, creating even more child nodes. This prototype took less than a day to create and I naively thought we would be done with the whole thing in a week, max. Silly me."

    Marvellous, dense post from Robert on designing Planetary: lots of show-everything, material exploration, and plussing. What detail looks like.

  • "Years later, when recounting his conversations with Beckett (which he did often), André the Giant revealed that they rarely talked about anything besides cricket."
  • "In this scenario one sunny day you're working on low-level NoSQL projects at the Gootch or wherever, and you get an email from Facebook and you go for the interview and Zuckerberg is talking about scaling PHP and suddenly pauses, gets this look in his eye, pulls his hoodie over his head and says “You have sixty seconds. You should be running.” Because engineers, as we are often reminded, are the ultimate prey."
  • "A problem with the human mind – your human mind – is that it's a horrific kludge that will fail when you most need it not to. The Ugh Field failure mode is one of those really annoying failures. The idea is simple: if a person receives constant negative conditioning via unhappy thoughts whenever their mind goes into a certain zone of thought, they will begin to develop a psychological flinch mechanism around the thought. The "Unhappy Thing" – the source of negative thoughts – is typically some part of your model of the world that relates to bad things being likely to happen to you."
  • "Designers get handed a tool kit that has as many tools as a good swiss army knife, and the maps reflect these tools. Millions of people use them to make appointments across town, find restaurants, and drive home for the holidays.

    But what if, instead of a swiss army knife, we used a box of crayons? Or charcoal and newsprint? Or play-doh? What would those maps look like? What could they tell us about the world?"

  • "One thing that I learned during the launch of the original Macintosh in 1984 was that the press usually oversimplifies everything, and it can't deal with the reality that there are many people playing critical roles on significant projects. A few people always get too much credit, while most people get too little, that's just the way it has always worked. But luckily, it's 2011 and I can use the service that I helped to create to clarify things." This is Good And Proper. (Also it's good management).
  • How ads used to be made. Some beautiful photographs here.
  • Useful notes on the modern way of deploying Rails applications with Bundler and Capistrano.
  • '"The expectation is slightly weird here, that you can do this stuff without killing yourself," added McNamara. "Well, you can't, whether it's in London or New York or wherever; you're competing against the best people in the world at what they do, and you just have to be prepared to do what you have to do to compete against those people."'

    This is what McNamara considers responding to controversy. I'm furious that men like this are allowed to manage other human beings.

  • "This is an atlas, then, made by that other nature, seen through other eyes. But those eyes have been following me, unseen and without permission, and thus I consider provoking breach a necessary act." This is good.
  • "csvkit is a library of utilities for working with CSV, the king of tabular file formats." Ooh.
  • "Synapse is an app for Mac and Windows that allows you to easily use your Kinect to control Ableton Live, Quartz Composer, Max/MSP, and any other application that can receive OSC events. It sends joint positions and hit events via OSC, and also sends the depth image into Quartz Composer. In a way, this allows you to use your whole body as an instrument." Oooh. OSC into anything; really nice, dead simple, and exactly the sort of thing I've been considering poking.
  • "[Mayo is] making a dummy RFID-reader surface for us to mount on a subway turnstile, as well as a companion piece for the MetroCard vending machine. The challenge here is to avoid imposing our own designerly tastes on these artifacts; if we want them to be convincing at that all-important subliminal level, we have to try and imagine them as an extension of the MTA’s existing graphic vocabulary.

    And that, in turn, means capturing a certain kind of municipal badness in the design of type and signage: inapposite font selection, clumsy kerning and so on. It’s an odd and demanding kind of discipline — especially for us, with our marked preference for the Vignelliesque."

    Realism channeled through suitably ropey implementation.

  • "We live in a world where the game of the movie of Where the Wild Things are, Motherfucking Where the Wild Things are, was a fucking cash-grab. This was a game based of Maurice Sendak. This should have been teeming with imagination. This should have been infinitely creative, a wonderful adventure inspiring generations of children. What is it, instead? It's a boring platformer. That's it. Just a generic, ordinary platformer. Are we okay with that? Are we okay with living in a world where a game based on a Maurice Sendak book is anything less than breathtaking, let alone underwhelming? I'm sure as hell not." 'Where are the children's games?" is, in fact, a good question; I can think of a few answers – but nowhere near enough. And, more to the point: there's a lot packed up inside that question that applies to things that aren't children's games. This is a topic I shall be returning to, I feel sure.

It’s Better Because It’s Better

17 July 2010

I haven’t written up Wonderlab yet. Mainly because my brain’s still spinning, still exhausted from those three days, and threads are coming together slowly.

So, rather than one beautiful, succinct post… everything is dribbling out in pieces, I’m afraid.

I’m thinking a lot about what I term “Games Literacy” right now – more on what that means in the future, I guess, but suffice to say: it’s about knowing how to both read and write, and being able to read games rather than just consume them. But, in trying to explain my frustrations with the relatively low literacies of many games creators (real or someday), I couldn’t help but return to a speech from Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, so beautifully delivered by Toby Stephens in the Old Vic production that I was fortunate enough to see a month ago.

Henry is a writer, and his partner – Annie – is trying to get him to look at a script written by Brodie, a young man. Henry explains that Brodie can’t write; Annie is furious, and tells Henry that he’s being a snob – just because he’s a writer, why does he get to choose who gets to write or not?

Henry reaches for his cricket bat.

HENRY: Shut up and listen. This thing here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. It’s for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you’ve done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly… (He clucks his tongue to make the noise.) What we’re trying to do is to write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might … travel … (He clucks his tongue again and picks up the script.) Now, what we’ve got here is a lump of wood of roughly the same shape trying to be a cricket bat, and if you hit a ball with it, the ball will travel about ten feet and you will drop the bat and dance about shouting ‘Ouch!’ with your hands stuck into your armpits. (Indicating the cricket bat.) This isn’t better because someone says it’s better, or because there’s a conspiracy by the MCC to keep cudgels out of Lords. It’s better because it’s better. You don’t believe me, so I suggest you go out to bat with this and see how you get on. [quoting from the play] ‘You’re a strange boy, Billy, how old are you?”Twenty, but I’ve lived more than you’ll ever live.’ Ooh, ouch! (He drops the script and hops about with his hands in his armpits, going ‘Ouch!’ ANNIE watches him expressionlessly until he desists.)

The analogy stands alone, I think. But, were I to attempt to summarise: the goal of any kind of literacy is, you could say, understanding that you ought to be making cricket bats. And then you really only need the gentlest touch to make an impact.

(and of course: it’s a marvellous play, and the rest of this scene is just as relevant as these scant moments. Do see it if you get a chance).

  • "I thought this was a fascinating take on the need within companies for stories… Companies spend a lot of money looking for these stories. Traditional product companies had to ask people and users to tell their stories, normally through market research. Web companies are at a huge advantage: they have rivers of usage data flowing through their servers, and the problem inverses – how to make sense and tease out meaning and interest from such a torrent." This is very good; I'm looking forward to future installments.
  • "If Ferelden has room for priests, elves, mages and golems then why doesn’t it have room for sceptics and scientists too?" Lovely notion – roleplaying an aetheist in Dragon Age (as best possible within the game). In this case, the player character believes in magic, but not in the montheist religion that much of the world ascribes to; miracles are really just magic at work. Subsitute "magic" for "science" and you begin to see his point. It's a nicely thought-through piece.
  • "The closer has confounded hitters with mostly one pitch: his signature cutter." Lovely motion infographics – informative, and powerfully confirming the narration.
  • "The move during the past 10 years or so has been from cameras being precision mechanical devices to molded polycarbonate containers for electronic components. This has meant a lowering of overall physical quality. What one gets in terms of features, functions and image quality is higher than ever before, but the satisfaction of owning and using a high quality mechanical and optical device has for the most part evaporated. Only the top models within any brand produce a tactile satisfaction and please one's esthetic sense." The quotation is from Michael Reichmann; the discussion that follows is as thoughtful as usual from TOP's readers.
  • It's a digital clock made out of scrollbars; divs being resized to force overflow and generate a scrollbar make up the seven-segment display. Bonkers.
  • "Using a simple correlation scale comparing marketing spend and sales against Metacritic rating and sales, Divnich found that marketing influenced game revenue “three times more than game scores”… “There is no compelling reason to focus on quality, you should literally just spend that money and time on marketing.”" I'm not sure he's suggesting this is a /good/ thing, but he is pointing out that it's what the numbers say. It's still depressing.