Electron Dance
17Aug/12Off

This Link Drag Is So Money Baby

This link drag features contributions from David Kanaga, Phill Ash, Chris Dahlen, Jimmy Maher, Rami Ismail and Rami Ismail. Let's begin... 

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"@-dance w/EXO \\ Tabor Robak & Gatekeeper" by David Kanaga (Wombflashforest), 10 August 2012. EXO is another attempt at combining music and exploration. It sort of fails, because I found the thing bloody frustrating. But what did the maestro of Proteus and Dyad think?

The soundtrack's implementation is static, suffering from the same alienated attitude to the relationship between music and play that we've come to expect in so many of these pop-game projects, like Pitchfork/Killscreen's recent INTEL Soundplay stuff, that assume a fixed soundtrack is enough. The guiding question here: games function like music videos? As a simple answer to this question, Exo works. It's the dance idea-- we can dance even to music that doesn't bend to our wills, right? True to a certain degree, and in many ways I enjoyed the direction of freedom in the game more than I did the live performance (and both as dances).. but something is lacking...

"Road riding tactics and the peloton - what happened to the men's Olympic Road Cycling team" by Phill Ash (Total Inner Tubes), 1 August 2012. Phill, someone I have the misfortune of working with in real life, explains the importance of drafting in peloton racing and why communication is key between the race leaders. Has any cycle racing game attempted to simulate this need for co-operative tactics?

"That also answers the question of why other riders seemed to be talking and helping each other.  On their own they would almost certainly fail and return to the peloton but as a group they can take it in turns to bear the brunt of the effort and maintain their lead to the finish leaving it to a best sprint wins; Which happened to be Marianne Vos to few peoples surprise."

"Dad, I Sacrificed The Babysitter" by Chris Dahlen (Unwinnable), 31 July 2012. The headline tells all, but it drags the reader towards to an important point about game morals and children.

"I asked her about what happened. She explained that he told her he wanted to pick her up and carry her around, “so he could ‘protect me.’” Though she plays a lot of videogames, the babysitter is new to Spelunky. She had to rely on my son for guidance on how to survive."

"Deadline" by Jimmy Maher (The Digital Antiquarian), 11 July 2012. I could probably link every single thing that Jimmy is writing about the beginnings of home computing but I'll restrain myself. Here, Jimmy talks about Infocom's Deadline, which was the first interactive fiction where things happened off-camera; NPCs would interact with the environment and each other even if the player wasn't present.

Indeed, the sheer difficulty of the task in the face of the still absurdly limited technology at hand was the main reason that no one had created a more dynamic, story-driven adventure before. Even leaving aside the more advanced world-modeling that would be needed, telling a real story would require a lot more text than the bare stubs of descriptions that had previously sufficed. Given the limited disk and memory capacities of contemporary computers, that was a huge problem.

"How much will your first indie game make?" by Rami Ismail, 08 July 2012. Rami, the businessy half of Vlambeer, talks about a seminar Vlambeer helped devise called Monetize That $hit.

We explained to them that the goal of the seminar would be to recreate that: students had to design a game, produce it and get to serious negotiations with any interested party. All of that had to be done within the seminar, or they’d fail the course. Failing the course would negatively affect their chances at passing the year, so that was anything but an empty threat. This seminar was going to be high stakes and that’s exactly how we needed it.

"The Serving Order of Grandma's Breakfast" by Rami Ismail, 29 July 2012. Yes, I know, it's Rami again but I couldn't pass up this confessional post about how Vlambeer almost died.

By the time we handled everything, we were overworked, overstressed and exhausted. Vlambeer felt like it was in the spotlights: interviews, questions, requests for advice and ‘collaboration opportunities’ kept coming in. Jan Willem was suffering from increasing amounts of migraine episodes. I woke up as tired as I went to bed. We lost velocity and our creative output took a nosedive steep enough to be useful for a zero-gravity training.

Sideways

"The Other Barbarians at the Gates" by Jessica Pressler (New York Magazine), 29 July 2012. Not all billionaires are created equal. Jeff Greene thinks he's running out of time to change the attitudes of his fellow 1%ers.

“This is my fear, and it’s a real, legitimate fear,” Greene says, revving up the engine. “You have this huge, huge class of people who are impoverished. If we keep doing what we’re doing, we will build a class of poor people that will take over this country, and the country will not look like what it does today. It will be a different economy, rights, all that stuff will be different.”

"Inside Iraq: the British peacenik who became key to the US military" by Nick Hopkins (The Guardian), 15 July 2012. Long but absolutely fascinating story about Emma Sky, an academic who was against the war in Iraq but ended up being a key figure in the CPA. Incredible. Note that Part 2 is not linked directly from the first so you might want to come back here for that second link.

"I was against the war and I had this idea that I was going to go out to Iraq and apologise to the Iraqis for the invasion, and everything they had experienced, and I would do whatever I could to help them get back on their feet." A few days and one short phone call later, Sky was told to report to the military air base in Oxfordshire. The Foreign Office did not give her a formal interview or briefing before she left, and she was given no detailed instructions about what to do when she landed. "I had a phone call from someone in the Foreign Office. It wasn't a long conversation. They said 'you've spent a lot of time in the Middle East, you'll be fine'. I was told that there would be someone at the airport waiting for me, carrying a card with my name. When I got to Basra, there was nobody there, and nobody seemed to know I was coming."

Motion

If you've ever wondered what Jesse Schell's achievement-saturated dystopia might look like, well here it is. The out-of-leftfield ending kind of screws up the message but it's most definitely worth a spin.

Download my FREE eBook on the collapse of indie game prices an accessible and comprehensive explanation of what has happened to the market.

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  1. Anyone (and I mean David Kanaga) who works in game sound and namedrops George Lewis, David Behrman, Anthony Braxton, and John Zorn is aight.

    The George Lewis/David Behrman thing is something I’ve been thinking about, with reference to text games mostly but obviously it’s more applicable to music. Both of them have developed improvising computer systems that respond to input from live instrumentalists. Here’s a bit of Behrman’s work. Here’s a chunk of Lewis’s (the piano on the right is being played by the computer).

    They seem to me to take opposite approaches. Behrman has his players use a restricted vocabulary, six pitches according to the liner notes of the album, which ensures that the piece is reasonably euphonious and meditative; the computer’s fairly guaranteed to hit something that goes with whatever live the musicians are playing.

    Lewis’s music embraces dissonance and unpredicatability. Some of it may sound like straight-up chaos; but it’s not (you may have to trust me on this) and it’s not so completely unlike the music he plays without computers. (Example.) The computer’s music can only make sense within a tradition where you expect some musical clashes, and you expect the musicians to go their own way some of the time. You just can’t, at least not right now, write a computer program that will react the way an improvisor in a fairly traditional medium would. No computer will jam out on “I’ll Remember April” with you. It just wouldn’t sound natural. (This is especially notable if you can find anything with his earlier program “Voyager,” which uses a whole sampled orchestra, but I couldn’t find anything with that on the web.)

    Which made me think about interactive responses to text: Traditional interactive fiction takes something like the Behrman approach. It restricts the range of possible inputs so its replies have a chance of making sense. If you want to allow free text input, you’re going to have to move to something avant-garde; we can’t do natural language parsing and replies, but we might be able to come up with something that finds things in text input and responds to them in its own way. It just won’t be anything like a natural conversation. You can’t expect a traditional story out of a computer, but you might be able to come up with something that picks up on the resonances and themes of what you say, if you drop the expectation for a traditional story.

    Which is all a long way off anyway. But Kanaga’s post makes me think that maybe the same stuff applies to procedurally generated music in, ah, interactive experiences. Something like Bit.Trip Beat (which I just got and which I can give you another argument about how it’s really the purest expression of video games as art) keeps the sound to a rigid pattern, and you contribute to it by hitting the beats at the right time, or not. Probably Parappa is a better example of that, since it gives you more freedom in Cool Mode from what I understand, but it’s still locked to the beat. Whereas it seems like Kanaga wants us to open our minds to some crazy hacked-up rhythms; his remix of EXO was pretty dissonant even for me. But if the sounds are responding to the player’s action, and the player is free, then you have to feel free to welcome dissonance.

    Anyway, this post seemed lonely, so I figured it was OK for me to blather a little.

  2. Matt, it was perfectly okay to blather. I don’t expect too much in the way of conversation on a Link Drag especially as each link only gets around 5-20 clicks usually.

    On the text interactivity thing. On one hand, I wonder if we’re perhaps too attuned to the detail and clarity of the word to become convinced of such automated responses. But look over here, on the other! Façade!

    I don’t know why I do this to myself, but, uhhh you’d recommend Bit.Trip Beat then? Am I imagining a connection here between Bit.Trip Beat/Parappa and Pippin Barr’s Epic Sax Game, as the latter is really about improvisation than performance?

    “But if the sounds are responding to the player’s action, and the player is free, then you have to feel free to welcome dissonance.”

    Yes. It’s interesting, though, how Proteus gets away without coming off as wildly dissonant. Perhaps when these things come together we don’t hear the chaos but instead feel the activity; we become fans of Lewis and Behrman.

  3. Well, what I would do is I would look at a playthrough of a Bit.Trip Beat level (with the sound on). If you find yourself mesmerized you’ll probably like playing the game. If you think “Why the heck am I watching someone play Pong by himself for fifteen minutes?” you probably won’t.

    Myself, I am a slave to the Humble Indie Bundle, because they let me load up on all sorts of games for a reasonable amount, and also because they work on Macs. More blather soon.

  4. I think you’re right about language — which means that the sort of thing I’m imagining would have to be so very avant-garde. Something like this with meaningful textual input. I didn’t play Façade for very long because it didn’t even seem to be recognizing what I was even typing. From the video Proteus sounds like it uses a pretty tonal palette, maybe more on the Behrmanesque side of things as far as pure sound goes. Not sure where that leaves my point. What was my point again?

    The Bit.Trip games are the opposite of improvisational — Runner occasionally lets you take an alternate path, but with Beat there’s just one place for your paddle to be at any time, unless you’re just letting something go. I really have no idea how freestyling works in Parappa — my entire experience with it is using a video of the driving test to entertain my son and annoy my wife — so I shouldn’t front on it. I only played half of Epic Sax Game, and it’s neat how it pivots from Guitar Hero to free-form improv, but that puts it on the opposite end of the spectrum, at least some of the time. (And in the studio phase I managed to get an A+ by not playing a note.)

    The reason I said Beat was the purest expression of video games as art is, video games are not really great at providing interactive narrative. What they are great at is getting you to move in certain ways, which means they can be more like music and dance than film or fiction. Most twitchy games seem to be “see threat, react to threat” or “see path, plan for and execute path through,” or sometimes “work out pattern to get through threat” (again, I don’t play these games much, so I’m talking smack), but Bit.Trip Beat trains you into a groove; there are lots of parts where the only way you’re going to get things right is if you’re moving with the beat. And you don’t get to choose the beat, but if you look at video games this way choice isn’t at the heart of interactivity anyway.

  5. I’m pretty good at just buying the odd game now which I intend to play immediately. For example, Lone Survivor, which I worked through and completed within a couple of months. I’m dispassionate about bundles: if I want an indie to receive my money, I usually give it to him in person. Anyway, I guess I should break out one of the Bit.Trip games these days. Just so I can say I know something about them =)

    It’s an interesting point about not being good at providing interactive narrative (which goes back to the old ludological argument, that try as you might, video games don’t wind up as “narrative play” rather than much more simplistic constructions with narrative trappings) and instead focusing on obvious strengths. But I wonder if your point about “the purest expression of video game as art” maps closely to games that evoke a state of flow (usually more about muscle memory and instinct than contemplative thought). Then again we’re wading into highly generalised and ambiguous terms here…


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