January 11, 2010 Archives

Programming is challenging, creative work. Our understanding of games would be incomplete if it did not include an awareness of the underlying code.

Due Today:

Paper 1

An original "New Games Journalism" article, building on Ex 3A and 3B.

Assigned Text:

Koster, 160-223

Chapters 10-Epilogue. Complete the brief, timed, open-book comphrehension quiz on GriffinGate. (Forthcoming.)

Assigned Text:


In Williams & Smith (276-297)

Hardware is closely related to code. This short article reminds us that computer programs in the 60s and 70s were actually designed to display their output on paper.

Read the abstract and paragraphs 1-13; skim 14-51 for a treatment of code, and skim 52-78 for a treatment of setting and culture; read 79-end for conclusions.

Assigned Text:

Pac-Man Dossier

Read the intro and Ch1 for an orientation. Scan Ch2 for details on gameplay, noting particularly the details on mode, speed, and cornering; read Ch3 to understand maze logic; skim 4 and 5.

Respond to the assigned material on the form and purpose of academic research. Note that Ex 4 (due on the 12th) asks you to respond to an academic article; you may wish to start reading it now.

What have we learned so far from our exposure to classic games?

Susan, Jessie, Beth Anne, Shellie, and Matt have all sounded pretty excited about some aspect or other about text games. 

Jeremy and Cody have shared opinions that are less than enthusiastic. Keith, I can't quite place you into either camp, as you have written about the frustration that comes from the unfamiliar game play, but your posts have focused on history lessons and observations, suggesting you are finding it useful to study something unfamiliar.

As humans, we can't help but interpret the world through the experiences we've had.  But remember the theory lecture -- rather than simply looking through the lenses we've got, I'm hoping that this experience is training us to examine the qualities of the lenses we didn't even know we were wearing. 

Koster's chapter 6 has a lot to say about different kinds of fun for people with different kinds of intelligence. On page 108, "if people are to achieve their maximum potential, they need to do the hard work of playing the games they *don't* get, the games that *don't* appeal to their natures. Taking these on may serve as the nurture part of the equation, counterbalancing the brains that they were born with."

I'm less interested in converting anybody to IF, than I am in asking students to explore and understand a world in which the hard-core gamers chose to play Zork because they wanted the challenge.  These games were "fun" to millions of gamers in the 80s, who didn't think of them as merely quaint and diverting; these gamers got excited and addicted and spent their money on them.  It took a certain type of person to use a computer in the 80s, and Koster notes that the early games that used reflexes and targeting were easier to develop with the available technology than games that simulated emotions, or ecosystems. 

Those early computers did not serve the visual thinkers very well. Yes, they were restrictive, and they forced you think in such a way that would make the game work; they didn't appeal to the visual-thinking people that made Apple so visionary.  That's the psychological selling point behind this famous 1984 advertisement for Apple Computers.

Once computers started shipping with CD-ROM drives, you could store a lot more music and graphics, which is what paved the way for more visually rich advengture games. By the mid 90s, home computers could generate 3D graphics on the fly.

But it's important to note that a game that uses rich graphics is restricted in other ways -- it requires an expensive computer, it takes scores of artists years to develop, it requires a server with other players connected to it or else it appears lifeless.  The more cinematic the game, the less game-like it becomes, and the more it resembles a movie -- especially when movies come with their own (usually horrible) game tie-in. 

Modern commercial games require so much money and so much labor that they're run by committees, and they start to resemble each other because only the most daring and innovative companies are willing to put serious resources into innovating when it's a much safer bet just to give the gamers more of what they already like.

As we start the second week of classes, I don't feel that I need to post links to all the upcoming work -- you've all been able to find it on your own.

I will post a friendly reminder that the readings and blog entries are due at 10am in the day they appear on the syllabus; those due dates are the canary in the coal mine -- if you start posting the reading reflections a little late, you'll fall behind in the discussions, and there may be a cascading effect.

I've posted a short list of IF games for an assignment (due on the 13th) in which I'd like you to sample three text games for 10 minutes each, and then choose one or two of those games to play for another 20 minutes. (You're welcome to play longer, of course.)  The assignment page describes how I'd like to blog your reaction.  Remember to post 2-4 comments on peer blogs, too.

Blogging Interaction

In the past few days, student blogs have attracted comments from Raph "A Theory of Fun" Koster, Scott "Adventureland" Adams, and Leslie Rodriquez, the former student who created the "Lara Croft" page (she's currently working in new media for an environmental company in the Washington DC area).  Adam "9:05" Cadre left a comment on YouTube and also e-mailed me privately (to say watching the video of the cubicle bug finally prompted him to dig into his source code and fix it -- but he realized he's lost the source code).  I hope you make the most of your opportunity to explore what your peers are saying.

Moving from Personal Reflection into Scholarship

As a discussion question for today, I've posed a few ideas as we start to close down the IF unit and move into games scholarship.  Academic scholarship is more complex than simply using Google and Wikipedia -- it involves peer-reviewed academic journals.

How confident are you that you know academic scholarship when you see it?

We've looked at the difference between a traditional game review and new games journalism, and I'm sure you can see that Keller and Montfort are writing for a very different purpose, in a very different way. 

We say an academic article is "peer-reviewed" when people who are experts in the subject have had a chance to read it and approve it (or reject it, or suggest changes) before it gets published. 
  • So, for instance, a physicist who wants to publish the results of an experiment would submit it to a panel of experienced physicists who know the subject inside and out.
  • Artists and art critics run their ideas past other artists. 
  • Lawyers who study the criminal justice system write detailed analyses of obscure cases that might be of interest to only a small number of people, but those few people may be the judges who rule on multi-billion-dollar fraud cases, impeach elected officials, or sentence people to death.
What counts as "research"?

Recent Comments

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Shellie Polly on Portfolio 3: http://blogs.setonhill.edu/Mic
Cody Naylor on Student Presentations: http://blogs.setonhill.edu/Cod
Shellie Polly on Student Presentations: http://blogs.setonhill.edu/Mic
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Cody Naylor on Portfolio 3: Sorry it's late! RA training w
Keith Campbell on Student Presentations: This is the real link with the
Keith Campbell on Student Presentations: http://blogs.setonhill.edu/Kei
Jessie Krehlik on Portfolio 3: http://blogs.setonhill.edu/Jes
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