Friday, 10 August 2007

Reminder: I know that I know nothing

I just blew up a floor sander in the most dramatic way. Sheared bolts and everything. Ooops. At least this computer is less likely to explode, although I built it myself, so there is always a possibility that it might.

A comment on one of those sites that are redistributing SCMIV said that it wasn’t just another Sokoban clone. Hmm, I thought and looked up Sokoban (there is an academic page here). And then following links I looked at Chip’s Challenge. So I could have used either to illustrate what I wanted to say about basic spatial construction in games without having to knock my own up. I am constantly hit by my ignorance of games, despite having my head stuck into them for a long time and to an almost worrying degree. Ah well, I wasn’t trying to do anything particularly original, but it is interesting to see how the designers of those games made a virtue out of the problem of ‘boxing in’ that I addressed through a control system that seems to irritate its players. I live and learn.

Talking sense about games

Games let you be a spectator in your own head. They're laboratories which let you contrive test after test - tweak a condition here and a parameter there - and give you a visible, beautiful read-out on just how smart your brain really is.

And in doing that, they give you more insight into your own capabilities than I've ever found in any work of literature or any piece of music.

Margaret Robertson, ex-editor of Edge, has an intelligent and insightful piece up at the BBC site. More insight there, at least, than in a few academic articles/book chapters on why we play games.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

To do list

Drawing up travel and accommodation plans and trying to check where I am supposed to be when, I now realise I am going to be a little busy in the near(ish) future. Talking/chairing at the Digital Interactive Symposium in Edinburgh put together by Ren Reynolds and Hannah Sommerseth next week – and incidentally catching up with an old friend and ex-colleague from my days at Manchester Metropolitan while goofing around the Edinburgh Festival. Off to Brunel for the postgraduate games event organised by Tanya Krzywinska, my editing partner for Videogame, Player, Text, in the week or so before DiGRA I also think I am speaking at Aurora in November, the animation festival where my folks are in Norwich, although the programme isn’t set yet, before hopping up to London for the games and film event that Diane Carr has organised. Apart from that I don’t think I have anything else booked in the near future. Gulp.

I’ll be talking about time and games at Edinburgh and Tokyo, and particularly about the different understandings of times held by players, developers and academics. About possible and virtual worlds in Norwich. About Blade Runner in London (and I still really like the essay I wrote for The Blade Runner Experience, which isn't’true of all my old games writing). And about life, the universe and game studies at Brunel.

Thinking about it, my own essay in Videogame, Player, Text is about time too –“"Killing Time: Time Past, Time Present and Time Future in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time".

Monday, 6 August 2007

DiGRA 2007 in Tokyo

Having changed my mind about going several hundred times and undoubtedly annoyed all sorts of patient people I finally put in an abstract for DiGRA Tokyo. The preliminary programme is up, and it is nice to see so many familliar names on it, as well as a bunch of people I have wanted to meet for a while. Should be fun, as well as illuminating.

Nostalgia still as good after all these years

This takes me back (via OgreCave). I used to be a sucker for pen and paper RPGs, and my poison of choice would have been either Traveller or RQ – both of which I played to death into my late teens. My office is full of old rules books for everything from Call of Cthulhu to Traveller 2000 to the original Warhammer, but I can’t quite bring myself to do any more with all this stuff than store it. While I would no longer go up to perfect strangers and ask them if they want to get a party together and come adventuring it certainly still gets me all misty eyed when I think back to my roleplaying days. My first professionally published piece of game related writing was actually an RQ adventure for White Dwarf back in 1984(WD88). 1984? 23 years? Where the hell did they go?

Anyway, Mongoose are releasing updated rules sets for both Traveller and Runequest. When they released a new Paranoia I bought it – sad admission – to read, rather than play. And I have a feeling I’ll do the same for both Traveller and RQ. I suppose I could scrape a game together from the game researchers, PhDs and teaching staff at work and tell them it is for research?

Edit -- A quick bit of maths works out that the date on the WD article must be wrong. It has to be 1987. Turns out that it was the second thing anyway, after a small piece on RQ magic systems in WD67 in July 1985. 22 years ago. So that's all right. For a moment there I thought I had been obsessed with games simply forever.

Shush, again

Hey, someone liked the game. That’s nice, although it has also appeared on some Czech games dowload sites here and here (*coff* they might have asked *coff*) which I guess also means that someone in the Czech Republic liked it. To try and get some players I announced it on the Game Maker Community site where it was entered into a Cage Match without my knowing (I had no idea what that was...) and it got soundly thrashed by a tower defence game someone is selling. Ah well, that'll teach me to release things into the wild.

I am still not sure it works as a game, and I have a version I am still playing with that adds new elements (worms arriving from one and both sides, a whack-a-mole stage, a singleton greedy worm) but I am not sure I'll do anything more with it.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Finally, factories that only manufacture left shoes

Via Kotaku there is a trailer up at GameTrailers for SimSity Societies that reminds me of something I wrote years ago about SimCity. Looks interesting, even if the claims for infinite possibilities make me smile. The soundbite version of what I am currently trying to write would be 'Videogames are caught in a promise of a public rhetoric of ever greater excess while constantly having to address the reality of forms of technological, economic, and player limit.' Ugly, but that is what editing is for.


I spent yesterday pulling up the flimsy boards nailed firmly to the original floorboards in our front room prior to sanding and varnishing to get rid of that ‘please ignore the state of the carpet, we have two young kids’ look which has horrified the more houseproud of our guests. My cup truly runneth over with excitement. By the time everything was made safe for little pink feet I was too tired to play anything, so I turned to the TV for a bit of mindless wallpaper. The funny thing was I hopped all the freebie digital channels and repeatedly flew past Resident Evil : Apocalypse. I seem to remember having heard some OK things about the movie, the adverts I had seen looked competent enough (even if the film takes itself deeply, deeply seriously), and the survival horror games have a natural enough fit with cinema. But I think it would have taken wild horses to make me sit and watch it.

It can’t just be a case of many times bitten, now shy. So now I wonder why I have no desire to see any game-to-film adaptation? I enjoy the harmless pasttime of watching gamers turn up in other movies (In Over the Hedge it is game literacy that saves the day, again -- hurrah) and I have no problem watching mass culture popcorn movies, but there seems to be a substantial difference between what I want to watch rather than do, and my preferances (in terms of genre) in games and film. I was turned off Resident Evil even though I had heard it was an OK film. So the thought of Doom, the movie, excites me not every time I walk past it reduced in a supermarket although I am happy enough to blast my way through many an FPS. But while survival horror games have an attraction for me – with all their dependence on a language we are familliar with from film – I have almost no interest in the cinematic version. And, off the top of my head, I can’t work out why, as I am usually as much of a sucker for cross-media franchise works as anyone. Worse, I know I am (initially at least) tempted into trying games purely because of their external IP (anything Star Wars for example - which has proved something of a mixed blessing) while I wouldn't make the move in the opposite direction.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Small is beautiful, immature is good

Michael Nitsche has an interesting piece up as part of the DiGRA Hardcore series of essays. Lots to chew on, particularly as he is really pitching the DiGRA SiG on Games and Film that is an unproblematically good idea. I have a paper to give in November at an event organised by Diane Carr, the other half of the Games and Film SiG, happily teach on our animation and film degrees, and have published a fair amount on games and film so I am a believer in the good things that can come out of careful use of film criticism applied to the very specific circumstances of games.

Something I find a little odd, however, is the rush to declare game studies an established and even mature field/discipline/whatever that this column seems to be contributing to. Yes, things are different now and we have lost something of the pioneering early excitement (I think Julian Kucklich made much the same point, albeit with extra sarcasm, in an earlier Hardcore column here), and yes, I suppose the acceptance of what we do has changed radically even over the last seven years I have been involved in this strange activity, but to shackle oneself to games as an academic is still to join a tiny bunch of people.

I am constantly surprised by how I seem to know (personally or through the work and/or reputation) so many of the people in game studies. In a previous life I used to have the job of tracking all the new research published in American literature 1900-1945 for Year’s Work in English Studies and even this tiny fragment of literature studies seems huge in comparison to game studies. Media effects stuff (or at least that bit that ‘proves’ that games turn you into a mindless killer) aside I think the only reason I haven’t read all the game studies literature that is out there is choice, rather than being overwhelmed by quantity. DiGRA, and the active and vocal online community, give the impression that we are bigger than we really are, I think, but I would love to know how many game studies academics there really are who think of themselves as first and foremost games scholars. Dozens? A hundred or more? A couple of hundred worldwide?

I like the fact we are small, and even a little ramshackle and even immature, and don’t have all the structures and controls of a larger discipline. I still think the curriculum should be, more or less, everything. There really isn’t that much work out there. There really aren’t that many books, in particular, and it is still possible to have a solid grasp of the literature. Knocking about the games sites while I should have been doing something else I happened on a post at Terra Nova where someone mentions that they are speaking at “the annual meeting of the American Accounting Association, which brings together over 3000 accounting professors from the US”. Now that is a lot of people working in an area. And I get the impression that is a subset of all the accounting professors in the States, which has to be part of a worldwide accounting discipline. I hope we never get that big so we get lost in the mass. Wow 3,000 people all talking about accounting in one place...