Bush of Goats

Life's too short for empty slog. ans.

Future memories’ hexagonal doorway

I read a great story over Christmas, (cribbed from here) and it reminded of a thing I wrote back in 2004 when I was at Mook (RIP). And seeing as I dug it out, I thought I’d stick it on Slideshare. And seeing as I did that, I thought I’d mention it here.

The News in 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized, Writing

ShowCo ’09

I spent the last few days in Sheffield, at a children’s media conference entitled, ShowCommotion. This was my first engagement with a new industry and featured just the same amount of excruciatingly awkward networking practiced by solo delegates at conferences throughout time and space. *sigh*.
It was a really good little package, all in all, with the chance to meet up with some people I hadn’t seen in about a decade, and introduce myself, whilst curling my own toes, to some new ones. I also got to hear some smart people say stuff. Now that I’m back in the cocoon of my office I can commence with the cogitation.
A chap called Paul Tyler produced a great session entitled, ‘the Cross Media Comfort Zone’. It was basically about new technologies and how these hold potential for ‘us’ (as in Children’s media producers) to create new things for kids to play with. He and his panel examined a variety of the latest technologies – a big area of interest was ‘Augmented Reality’ ( frankly all a bit ‘meh’ at the minute, but with loads of potential) and several examples of soft tech.
One that has stayed with me was the work done by some german students, where an incompetent looking robot asked people to point it – literally, by pointing – in the right direction: it used image recognition of the people it was asking to read their body shape as they stood before it and pointed the way.
Another standout thought from this session was something put forward by Dom Mason. He made an interesting point about how gestural interfaces will mean we no longer have to learn a series of difficult, obtuse thoughts and commands to engage with our computers (a word which will itself come to seem quaint and unnecessary).
“Ok, so… go to File, choose Open, select File.. .oh, where’s the file? Hang on, I didn’t put it there… it’s on the E drive… that means I have to go back here…”
This all seems easy enough,but then we’ve learnt what those words mean in the context they’re being used. But when we have gesturally aware computing – Microsoft Natal, the dumb looking robot – available to us, we are also removing the user engagement with the structural principle of computing and using, soft, clever, tactile technology to soften the blunt edges (like forgetting which drive the file we want is on).

This got to me, and on the train back home, I figured out why.
We are paying deference to the user’s inability and building technologies and interfaces which will magnanimously ‘take the blame’ for our inability to locate what we want.
Is this such a good thing? I’m not sure if it is. Doesn’t being wrong provide us with a learning experience?(Even if it is only to remember where we usually keep our stuff).
What happens when we never have to be wrong again?

Filed under: Games, Noticing

The Little Big World of Work

This isn’t a review of what might well be a very good game (and my expectation is that it will be exactly that) but a thought on how it fits in, and why it works.

“Little Big Planet’ on the PS3 (and quickly we’re at the nub of why this isn’t a game review: I ain’t got no PS3) allows you to create levels and experiences to play through yourself or to share with others. I’m sure the sharing and the showing off part is the major draw for many, but it’s the building that interests me. The essential gameplay involves you building levels from a collection of graphics and objects that reminds me, as a designer, of using PhotoShop.
We are making work into play.
Clearly everyone wants to express they-selves, but I wonder as to the ripple effects this may set off. Manipulating graphical elements to achieve a desired result is directly in the hands of everyone: we are porting the idea of being good at playing a game into being proficient at art and design. This is isn’t about ‘giving people the tools’ (a much over-used phrase now stripped of any real meaning) it’s about redefining what the tools and the job are in order to make use of other skills we may have already, and that they’re skills we never thought would be relevant is exciting. Isn’t it?

The promo-site illustrates the idea quite well:
littlebigplanet.com

Filed under: Games, Noticing

Numbers in the night

As anyone who has ever been given a mixtape by me will know, I have a thing about number stations.

Number stations (for anyone who doesn’t already know, or didn’t click that link) are thought to serve as a comms channel to spies operating overseas. No government has acknowledged their use, but evidence seems to point to that being the case. The stations themselves are fabulously eerie lists of numbers or spelling alphabets, being read aloud, via automated speech generation. You also get samples of music (’Tyrolean Mountain Tune’ being a personal favourite).

Therefore, I thoroughly enjoyed this little game and spent a good hour the other night, reliving childhood nights huddled under bedclothes, twiddling the dial, looking for voices. Ah, happy days.

The only thing missing was the sound of John Peel saying, ‘Aswad’.

Filed under: Games

Games I have loved, (a)moralities I have not.

Have been meaning to mention a game I thought was very good for a while, so do so now.

Portal.
What I thought was a simple premise actually turned out to be a brilliant set up for the game-proper as Portal began with you participating in what was essentially a puzzle game in a laboratory environment. This was for the good of science, and had the benefit of making you think you knew the parameters of the experience to come. But things didn’t work out quite how I was expecting…

Approaching the ‘final level’ of the test, the calm computerised voice which had been guiding me through the test sequences (it’s been a bit stand-offish, but then it *is* a computer) reveals itself to actually be unconcerned with my survival: rounding a corner, I discovered not the cake I was  (repeatedly) promised, but a burning pit. I was shocked and confused; a little hurt, even.
But then I then managed to leap to safety – I actually thought I’d broken the game.

How awesome is that? I’d managed to avoid the game’s intentions, and for a delicious second, thought I’d found a glitch that meant I could delay the inevitable end if for just a few minutes.

And then I discovered a way out of the room!

I’d got quite a distance before it occurred to me that I hadn’t found a bug, I was now playing the game proper and the other stuff had been training. A great conceit really well executed.

10/10

PS: This is the final credit sequence and song . A good indication of just how smart and funny Portal is.
PPS: there’s cake…

By turn, I’ve played two games recently which I was woefully disappointed in.
Bioshock  and Grand Theft Auto IV

I hadn’t ever really connected with the GTA series in our previous lives and iterations (despite having the first game and working with someone who was very into San Andreas when it came out) I just kind of knew I wouldn’t really enjoy them, so I didn’t bother.

But after the recent Edge ‘GTA’ issue, I thought, ‘oh yeah, new console; latest in the series; Edge are bigging it up; they’ve never really connected with the series either; maybe I should reappraise. So I bought

It makes me feel a bit old, but I was genuinely alarmed by the absence of any guiding moral in what is a brilliantly realised world. But shouldn’t game designers think more about the morality of the spaces they are creating?

The evident confusion between the morals of the individual and the morality of the environment is in urgent need of attention.

I suppose what I mean is, if I’m stood on a rugby field, dressed in a rugby kit, in the middle of a team of people I have expressly chosen to play a hard physical game with, I wouldn’t have much reason to object to being charged into and slammed to the ground.
If on the other hand I am waiting for a bus and I am charged into and slammed to the ground, I may have a legitimate grievance with the person who has just done the charging and the slamming.
GTA is like rugby-tackling the unprepared for fun, and it made me feel a bit sicky (a feeling which worsened when I learned how some people were playing the game).

What I really wanted to do in GTA was to be good. I wanted to leave the unpleasant corrupting characters the game introduces me to and settle down with a nice girl. It’s because it’s such a vast, well realised world, that this is what I wanted to do, but the lack of any option to do good troubled me muchly. Your choices were stark: do crime or do nothing.
And that’s were it began to feel really quite uncomfortable. The absence of anything to do other than crime can echo a little too loudly on the streets of Clapton as the reality of daily life for a huge percentage of the games’ audience may not be all that dissimilar. You see enough teenage boys in Hackney, shambling between their bedroom and the corner shop to know how fatal boredom can be.

“Now if we could just ban video-computer-games and that awful rap-music they listen to, the world would be a much nicer  place!”

My reaction to Bioshock was similarly engendered by the beauty of the world I was being allowed into, and the paucity of things I was allowed to do in it.
Having finally sorted out connecting to Xbox live at the weekend, I downloaded some demos (‘The first few bits of a game for free? I probably wouldn’t get beyond that if I’d paid 50 quid for it in the shops!’) Bioshock was one.

Anyway, I was marvelling at the beauty and the set up, the ambience of it all when I’ve suddenly got these clunky ‘powers’ with which to refry the zombies charging at me from all angles. Turns out Bioshock is just a mediocre FPS with some of the greatest art direction and scene setting of any game I’ve ever seen. Bummer.
Game, 3/10: world, 9/10

Filed under: Games

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