Skip to main content

Lucky Wander Boy follow-up

Thanks to Grand Text Auto for pointing out this interview with D.B.Weiss, the author of Lucky Wander Boy, the novel about classic video games I've mentioned earlier. His favorite recent game? Katamari Damacy.

Has anything in recent games inspired you like the MAME emulator?

Katamari Damacy (Namco, 2004) was certainly an inspiration -- it really captured the whacked-out, topsy-turvy experience I got from playing early Nintendo games, but scaled up (literally) to take advantage of current hardware, but not too much advantage, and I liked that too. The designers chose a visual simplicity that works in the game's favour. I haven't been able to adequately describe the game's appeal to people, I don't think, but I still try every chance I get.

The surrealist game in question in your book was also Japanese. Do you think Asian games are inherently of better quality or just more interesting due to the cultural difference?

I don't know, man... after finishing Katamari Damacy, I'm inclined to say they're better... but that's a pretty unique game by any standards. Honestly, I just found the store near me that sells Japanese imports. Let me play a few more of them before I develop a real opinion about that. It does seem that there's a hell of a lot more variety over there than over here. I like a good racing game as much as the next guy, but how many dozen can you make?


Robbers scared off by Playstation game

Robbers scared off by Playstation game get jail time.

Back in March, Sandy Wilson was taking care of her three grandsons when a group of men attempted to burglarize her home, pointing a gun at the kids.

The children happened to be playing a video game called Grand Theft Auto at the time. The game has dozens of random police scanner messages, which blare out calls such as "This is the police! You’re surrounded!" Believe it or not, Wilson says the burglars heard that message and thought police were outside the door waiting for them.

Well, that's way more up-beat and heart-warming than the "Bomb Scare Blamed On Grand Theft Auto" story. And less embarrassing to the authorities than the "Video Game Character Wanted By Real Police" (couldn't find a link, sorry).

But why do three 18-year old males need their grandma to take care of them?..

(Thanks, Ryan.)

On Academia

The nice thing about a blog is that you can just link to someone else's words instead of having to do any heavy lifting yourself. It is even nicer when the someone else in question is a good friend and when the topic he writes about is an important one.

Which leads me to Mark Barrett's critique of video game academia.

Here's the thing. Noah Wardrip-Fruin (one of the people behind Grand Text Auto) and Pat Harrigan have co-edited a book called "First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game", a collection of essays on electronic literature. (For Greg Costikyan's rant on the term 'electronic literature', go here.)

Then Noah asked Mark to respond to the essays in the Cyberdrama section. And he did. In the process, he has articulated exactly what bothers me about the current vogue for video game academia - specifically, the humanistic, non-vocational side.

To wit: the majority of video game academic output that I've seen is just not about making better games, and therefore I find it completely useless, if not worse.

For such a statement to have more credibility than a mere rant on some random guy's blog somewhere, it must be buttressed by reasonable arguments and careful reasoning, and this is exactly what Mark has done:

In college I took a run at academic criticism, including semiotics. I spent time studying films and writing them, studying fiction and writing short stories, and studying theater and writing plays. The most surprising thing I learned in my criticism classes was that most of the people sitting in the chairs beside me had no interest in making anything. They were there to learn how to talk about the medium they loved, not how to better create in the medium they loved.
What is not clear to me even now is whether [establishing the mature language of discourse that has so far evaded the more transient commercial industry] is the specific intent of Murray's essay ["From Game-Story to Cyberdrama"], or whether she really does mean to go beyond language to questions of craft and technique. If academics are going to be helpful in solving the interactive storytelling problem, they need to be explicit about their intent, exhaustive in their historical analysis and rigorous with their language. The danger in failing to do so is not simply that confusion will arise, but that academia will perpetuate the reinvention of the wheel among the transient student populations in the same way these issues have reappeared a number of times in the transient commercial industry. And from where I sit, as a creator, the last thing any of us needs is another generation of designers thinking they're getting in on the ground floor of the interactive storytelling problem when they're not.

Like Mark, I don't begrudge anyone the right to spend their brief time in this vale of tears as they see fit, and the video game academics I've met all tend to be nice, smart people. But still: what's the use? How are you advancing the boundaries of the medium? Why would you want to do anything else? Tell me - I honestly don't get it.

To add insult to injury: I'm afraid many people who are interested in thinking about games will assume, as I once did, that video game academia has some merit [towards making better interactive entertainment], and try and wrestle with it, to understand what is going on there, to try to apply what they've learned to the actual making of interactive entertainment. Sadly, there are probably more productive ways to try to make better games. So not only is video game academia not trying to advance the medium: it may actually waste the time and energy of those who are.

Update: Less than 24 hours after posting this, I come across the book "What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy" by James Paul Gee, obliging me to add a qualifier to my statements above. I can see the use of studying video games in the context of some other field. However, this still leaves a broad field of academic endeavors on games that leave me baffled, and I don't think Sturgeon's Law can fully explain that.

Update 2: Here are some more reactions to this post:

I've added a qualifier to my closing statement above. I'm glad there have been many interesting and thoughtful comments so far.

Writing is hard

Writing seems easy, but it's really hard - just as hard as any complex design / problem-solving job. Don't believe me? Read about Neil Gaiman's progress with his latest novel. It reminds me of some game designs I've worked on (and thanks to Mark for pointing out that what I felt was normal, and that filling a blank page is really, really tough).

I think back, a tear in the corner of my eye, to the halcyon years when I didn't know this harsh truth, and wrote as happily and joyfully as a child. Ahhh... those days of innocence are gone. (Although the results are still there for all to see, on the Thalion Webshrine. Luckily for me, that site is down for the moment.)

Nintendo DS Fever

OK, so both Tobe and me pre-ordered a Nintendo DS and waited for it to arrive. He ordered at Lik-Sang, I ordered at DVD Box Office. He won. Except he doesn't have any games yet :P

Still, I've now seen and touched one in real life. It's funny, this is the first time ever that I've tried to get a new bit of hardware as early as possible. I've never considered myself an early adopter, ever since a friend of mine got a Super Nintendo from Japan in 1991. (Of course, this is all relative: I bought a DVD player in 1998, well after the first ones became available, but still payed around 850 Euros for it.)

No, I haven't preordered a PSP. And pretty much for the same reason why I didn't get a PlayStation or a PlayStation 2 when they came out: I'm just not that excited about the games I've heard about.

My impression of the DS, apart from that it's bigger and heavier than I expected, is that Nintendo pretty much crammed everything cool in there that they could think of: stylus / thumb-tack, double screen, touch screen, microphone, Wi-Fi. And they have the internal development capacity plus the will and proven ability to exploit it, and to brow-beat others into doing so.

There is some discussion between the people at Eurogamer on how well-suited the touch screen is for controlling Mario DS. But be sure to read their review for more details on the mini-games, which are apparently addictive show-cases of what can be done with a DS.

(Have you noticed how everyone has to switch to a new screenshot format? Have you ever had trouble understanding a DS game because of that screenshot format?)

Meanwhile, preordering the DS and the PSP in Japan was no walk in the park.

Tokyopia also has reports on Wario Ware Touched (who wants to be touched by Wario? Brrrr.... but I still want that game) and Meteos, a multi-player puzzle game by Tetsuya "Rez" Mizuguchi and Masahiro "Kirby/Smash Bros." Sakurai.

Unity has been canceled

Unity, Jeff Minter's latest project in cooperation with Lionhead, has been cancelled.

The official press release:


Lionhead Studios and Jeff Minter have come to a mutual decision to cancel their collaborative project Unity with immediate effect. Unity was always an ambitious and experimental project and as is the case with such endeavours they do not always come to fruition.

Both Lionhead and Jeff are disappointed that it has been necessary to take this step despite significant publisher interest. However, a shared commitment to excellence and originality meant both sides agree that the cancellation of the project was in everyone’s best interests.

Relations between Jeff and Lionhead remain strong and both sides have enjoyed working together over the past two years.

Commenting on the decision to halt work on Unity, Peter Molyneux said, “Everyone at Lionhead has the utmost respect and admiration for Jeff’s unique talents. However, we’ve both been in the industry a long time and it was becoming increasingly apparent to us that we would not be able to finish Unity in an acceptable time frame. On a personal level, I have very much enjoyed working with Jeff.”

Jeff Minter responded, “Everyone at Lionhead has been incredibly supportive and the decision to stop working on Unity has been a difficult one for us. But being realistic, I felt it was better for everyone concerned that we cease work on Unity. I’d like to thank Lionhead for all their help and support over the past two years.”

On the Llamasoft bulletin board Jeff Minter added:
It’s been a horrible decision for us to have to make, but in the end we’ve had to make it. Basically, although I’ve built a shedload of stuff for Unity in the past couple of years it’s become clear that getting it all together into something that I’d be happy to call Unity and put my name to was going to take a lot of time and effort both from myself and the guys at Lionhead, and realistically it was becoming unlikely that it’d be finished in time for anyone to want to publish it on Gamecube. The alternative would be a rush job and we simply didn’t want to do that. Best to call it a day.

The fact that Unity had been going for two years but would have needed at least another year is a sign of what it could have been.

This is really a bummer. I would have loved to see some of the old 80s Minter magic here in the new millennium. Damn.

(Via Kotaku.)

Work at EA

Anyone who keeps half an eye on what's going on in this industry surely has heard about the recent controversy concerning work practices at Electronic Arts.

If not, a brief recap: first, the anonymous spouse of an EA worker told all. This broke on Slashdot Games on November 11th. Then, Joe Straitiff, a former EA engineer told all. Then pandemonium ensued.

The New York Times, CNN Money and have reported on the issue.

Bulleting boards are buzzing. Comment sections are overflowing. The IGDA is talking about it. There's talk of class action lawsuits (more about that here). There's talk of unions. In Australia, people are getting organized.

(In all the hubbub, you may have missed Evan Robinson's commentary and this fascinating guide to EA's company culture.) has reported that EA promises change. They got their hands on an internal memo by J. Russell (Rusty) Rueff, Jr., Executive Vice President, Human Resources and Facilities.

Salon has reported on the reactions to the memo.

I'm going to post this as is now, and write up my comments later.

Update: Get the T-shirt.

Interactive Storytelling

There's a really interesting discussion on interactive storytelling going on at Grand Text Auto, triggered by Robin's reports on the Game Tech Summit.

I've been interested in interactive storytelling since, well, 1989 - before I had even entered the games industry. In the last year (except when I was too busy being a producer) I've been thinking a lot about how we can get closer to this, in the broader context of innovation in interactive entertainment. Not so much what to do (not that that's an easy question), but how to create the opportunity.

Trying to break new ground while developing a commercial project just isn't going to cut it, even if you set your goals lower than Andrew's. And to the best of my knowledge, there still isn't enough serious R&D going on in the industry, and academia is still too far removed from the reality of making better interactive entertainment.

I cannot help thinking of Chris Crawford, who has been here and thought about this so many years ago already.

I wish I hadn't discovered this post mere minutes before I have to get ready for work. Once more I have to post and run, and push this onto my stack of subjects to think Deep Thoughts on, thoughts that will be Well Expressed and published Sometime In The Future... meanwhile, enjoy reading the discussion over at GTxA.