Endless Winter

Here in Manchester, we are beginning to lose hope that the cold weather will ever end as we face down a ‘White Easter’. Some brief thoughts…

  • Still an excellent chance to win a book in the Spring Review Drive! There are currently only two people in the competition and there are still two books to be won, so if you think you could write a short review of one of my books there’s an exceptionally high chance of winning.
  • I have resumed working on Chaos Ethics more or less full time during the University’s Easter Break. I’m turning down consultancy work until I get this one completed. Progress has been slow since the restructure derailed my momentum, but I hope to get back on track soon.
  • My PhD is getting close now… I have all the materials compiled, and if all goes well I’ll be a Doctor by the middle of Summer. Not entirely sure how I feel about this, though: reading Ivan Illich leaves me very cynical when it comes to these self-certified professions.
  • I’m about to apply for funding for my testosterone research… if I get it, I’ll finally be able to do some of my own research instead of waiting for other people to do it for me.
  • Working on my first home-made boardgame in several years, a never-for-publication homage to the classic race game The London Game but transferred to a megatextual fantasy setting – visiting places like Tanelorn, Ulthar, Minas Tirith or The Emerald City. Incredibly good fun, it’s taken over my gaming time with my wife at the moment.

Have a great week everyone!

Delays and Extensions

No substantial blogging this week as I seem to have left an important part of my brain somewhere over Greenland. Hopefully the airline can deliver it to me soon enough…

  • I learned something valuable this month: jet-lag is exponentially worse when you travel with a two-year old! Had a great but exhausting trip to Tennessee and the surrounding states, and it was wonderful to catch up with some of our dear and distant friends.
  • I’ve been forced to ask Zero Books for an extension for Chaos Ethics, which they’ve been happy to give me. To be honest, I’m rather less happy about this – both because I hate having to ask for extensions and because I really need to get this draft manuscript completed soon as there are a lot of other projects I need to work on. On the plus side, the book is coming along fantastically well, and the restructure is a significant improvement.
  • Might share some thoughts about the PS4 announcement at some point, but the short version is that all the home console manufacturers are in trouble right now, and most AAA game developers are also at-risk.
  • Ironically, while the upper market struggles with precarious economics of their own creation, it’s practically a golden age for indies. However, I worry about market saturation in the popular genres.
  • It occurred to me that if you interpret ‘speculative realism’  as a form of idealism it could be described as ‘mindless idealism’. This appeals to me – I might declare myself a ‘mindless idealist’ just to support/oppose the speculative realists!

Return of the Snippets

Clip Art Graphic of a Yellow Guy Character After almost two years of absence, may I present the return of Only a Game’s Snippets – which I offer in place of anything more substantial this week, since the one thing this vacation has not provided me is time! Although it has been great to catch up with distant friends, there is something inherently draining about trying to meet with so many people in so many places in so short an interval of time, and having a two-year old with us only makes it harder. Still, nothing worthwhile comes about without effort, and life is good even (especially?) when it is exhausting.

  • Congratulations to ihobo stalwart Ernest Adams who has now been awarded his PhD! My own PhD by publication is in train, and I expect I shall be joining Dr. Adams with my own doctorate later this year.
  • After thirty years, I finally fulfilled my dream of sacking Doomdark’s capital of Ushgarak in Mike Singleton’s classic The Lords of Midnight! Anyone interested in the history of videogames who has not investigated this title has a golden opportunity thanks to Chris Wild’s iOS, Android and other releases of the game. It’s my favourite strategy game of all time – persevere with its odd interface and thou shalt be rewarded!
  • Fans of Object-Oriented Ontology should note that Timothy Morton’s Realist Magic is available online in html, as well as in book form. I’m afraid that although I enjoy the OOO crowd, every time I read their expositions of the core of the approach I am left thinking “And?”. Still, as contemporary mythologies go this is much more interesting than most other positivist systems. As geeks, however, philosophers should be wary of rabbit holes that invite them to communicate solely with other geeks, especially if they want (as Morton does) to influence change.
  • Work on Chaos Ethics has been slow while I’ve been away, and held up considerably by a necessary restructure – the original four parts are now being shuffled into ten chapters, each with a specific example of applied ethics. I’m convinced this is a better way to mount its discussions, but it’s a lot of extra work. This is rapidly becoming the toughest manuscript I’ve ever worked on, and I sincerely hope there are people out there looking to reconsider morality as a phenomena or I’m just barking at shadows.
  • There has been one (and only one!) entrant to the Spring Review Drive! As such, this lucky individual is currently guaranteed a prize – as would the next two entrants, as long as no-one else enters (!). Whichever way you look at it, your chances of winning a signed book are excellent if you submit reviews to the Review Drive now!

More from me when I’m back in the UK and recovered from my travels, although I shall monitor the comments when I get a chance so don’t hesitate to drop me a line – I’d love to hear from you on these or any other topic!

Spring News

Over on ihobo I made a few announcements that I’ll cross-post here:

  • MotorStorm Apocalypse (PS3) launches in about two weeks time. International Hobo has been working on the structural and narrative content of this game since pre-dev and it’s been fantastic watching the extremely talented team at Evolution Studios at work. Looking forward to seeing the finished game.
  • Green My Place, the serious game project that won a Learning Game Award last year, has launched. There are some fantastic minigames at this site, based on designs we provided to the project, and I’ve been really impressed with the way it’s come together over the last eighteen months. Casual game fans, check it out!
  • Also about to be released is Air Conflicts: Secret Wars (PS3, 360, PC), the last part of the Air Conflicts trilogy we’ve been working on for about five years. The story materials we developed for this arcade flight sim are really quite exceptional. Set in World War II, it tells the story of a smuggler pilot and her crew who become embroiled in the struggles of the resistance movements in Europe, with flashbacks to her father’s story as a pilot in the Great War. It may be the best game story we’ve ever made.
  • I’m also delighted to announce that Zero Books will be publishing my philosophy of games book Imaginary Games, probably in early 2012. This is the culmination of the Game Design as Make-Believe serial – thanks to everyone who supported this!
  • And of course, I now have a little baby son, Soren Albert Bateman!

Cross-posted from ihobo.com, comments accepted on both sites.

Games, I Remember Those...

Been a while since I posted a round-up of anything game-related, principally because I have been thoroughly disinterested with videogames recently, as they increasingly feel like work and not play.

  • 3D was the story from E3, of course! And the moral of the story seems to be: no-one really cares.
  • It's a testament to how rarely I put on the 360 that it updates itself every time that I do. But I've dusted it off recently to play Chime, a puzzle game best described as Tetris meets Qix. It's the most engaging puzzler to come along in quite a while, plus 60% of the sales go to children's charities.
  • I'm absolutely dying for a good 2D exploration game in the manner of the old flick-screen explorers like Sabre Wulf, Scuba Dive, Sacred Armour of Antirad, Arac the Arachnidrod, Wizard's Lair or Starquake. Outside of Metroid and Castlevania, it seems nothing like this ever gets made any more... PixelJunk: Shooter gave me a short fix, at least.
  • Although I'm not playing videogames very much, I'm still enjoying boardgames. I think my wife and I have now racked up more hours playing Arkham Horror than any other boardgame I've played in my life, including Car Wars. Scary.
  • And finally, Only a Game stalwart Mory Buckman has a new gamelet out, entitled The March of Bulk. It's a non-game in which you perambulate an elephant - I had lots of fun messing about with it and finding all the things you can do!


Snowdog The whole of Manchester is buried under a carpet of white right now, and I'm gradually digging myself out of both the email and the snow, as well as clearing the spam out of the virtual gutters here at Only a Game. I'll try and do comments this week, and it should be blogging as usual next week, with a bit of luck. In the meantime, here's a picture of Boomer enjoying the snow, and a few snippets.

  • Will be starting work on the two new Kant pieces shortly; hope to have this ready this month.
  • Finally ditching the HP printer. This has been the worst purchase the company has ever made... Without going into the litany of problems, let me share the most recent "feature": it ran out of magenta ink and then refused to print in black and white. Avoid HP printers!
  • My iphone broke just before the Winter Festival, leaving me without my highly addictive portable internet device. To Apple's credit, itunes successfully restored 100% of the content when the replacement iphone arrived - but to their detriment there was no way of accessing the contact information via itunes in the interim, leaving me without a lot of contact numbers.
  • It's Modern Warfare 2 versus New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and although the wargame has an early lead thanks to its twin SKUs (14 million total sales thus far) Nintendo's challenger is outselling Call of Duty by 3 to 2 right now (8.6 million total sales thus far). I predict eventual victory for Mario in this battle, in about three or four months time.
  • And speaking of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, I'm surprised at just how tough this game is right from the outset. I don't see what hope a new player (whose never seen a Mario game) will have of getting to grips with this, but I guess what they're selling is the challenge. Perhaps this is another reason why other platform game franchises dried up - they lost the hobbyists by becoming too easy. 

More nonsense soon!

Shameless Plugs

A few plugs for things that are going on, or games that are out there in the ether:

  • Chico of Nongames is looking for "people who have "worked on any interesting independent game/webgame/mod with an artistic approach" or "on any interesting piece of art (film, pictures, hypertext, fiction, music etc) made with videogames". Leave comments on the relevant post at his Nongames blog if you can help!
  • My longtime sparring partner Daniel Boutros has a new game out on iphone called Trixel. It's available now on the iphone app store, and offers a satisfying pattern-matching puzzle play, which reviewers are praising for its replayability. I found it strangely compulsive, and it plays radically differently in timed mode to its puzzle mode.
  • Raph Koster drew my attention to Daniel Benmergui's artlet Today I Die. A really novel mechanic drives the play of this one, although players may take a while to discover the meaningful game actions. Definitely worth a look if you're into art games.
  • Speaking of Raph, Metaplace is now at open beta.
  • And lastly, Chris Chappell wrote to me to tell me about the play Adventure Quest, which "combines vintage graphics and 8-bit music with live acting to evoke the world of '80s adventure gaming". It sounds brilliantly surreal! It's at the Brick Theatre in Brooklyn on June 6th, 17th and 24th and July 4th.

Quick Thoughts on Recent Games

It's been a while since I've had time to look at demos and the like, but I finally made time this weekend to do so. A few thoughts:

  • There's no doubt the technology behind the Killzone 2 demo is very impressive indeed, as befits a game developed for more than $50 million. It's a great showcase for the PS3's power, but I just don't see how this can shift many units for Sony. It will more than satisfy PS3 owners who play FPS games, and doubtless spark many Killzone 2 vs Halo 3 arguments, but I don't see the undecided players or the Microsoft faithful being swayed by a by-the-numbers FPS, no matter how impressive the tech. Marketing is spending a fortune plugging the game, though.
  • I was rather more impressed personally with the Afro Samurai demo, which was impossibly stylish, making me wonder what Namco-Bandai stumped up to make it... A very bloody and violent game, I can't imagine buying it for myself, but I will certainly play the demo again. One of the nicest constructed demos I've seen.
  • Last week I bought thatgamecompany's newest creation Flower (a PS3 exclusive), but I didn't get to play it until this week. I was really impressed with the beauty and ease of play of the game, and agree with Patrick Dugan's comment that it could be more profitable than Gears of War (bearing in mind, of course, that profitability is a ratio in respect of the development cost). Still, I'm sad because this game means making my own similar project Eden is now a complete waste of time! However, Jenova and his team have done more with Flower than I ever could have done with my own project - bravo!
  • And at a completely different end of the developmental budget scale, I loved Mory Buckman's newest "artlet" entitled The Perfect Color. You can read the notification concerning the game at Mory's blog, or download the game for PC, which is free. I'm reluctant to say anything as it's a strange and wonderful thing that had me both bamboozled and entertained in equal measure (the little people are great fun to mess with!). If you enjoy "art house" games, you should definitely check this out.
  • And I'm being told I must check out Miner Dig Deep, an XNA community game on the Xbox 360, so I will do that as soon as I have a moment. Update: I had a look at this last night, and was thoroughly entertained by its simple, yet compelling play. Wish this was available for my iphone!

Off to the States for a month on Friday, so this week should be the last blogging week until April. See you in the comments!

The Clanking of Gears

The shock of the return to work has rather thrown me sideways, but rest assured I am getting prepared to return to normal service next week. I'll be wrangling comments this week, and a few other housekeeping tasks. In the meantime, here are a few snippets...

  • My sister and her husband got me Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations as a present, which I have been looking forward to reading for absolutely ages. It touches upon philosophy of mind, which I hope to get to on the blog later this year. If anyone has any suggested reading on the subject, do let me know.  
  • In a change to the published programme, I am delaying the Religion in Science Fiction serial until after GDC. Instead, I shall be running a short serial on Myths of Evolution. I originally wrote this as a Focus piece, but it became readily apparent it would work better as a serial.
  • The unstoppable Bezman has claimed victory in the I Spy... Temporal Anomalies minigame, with second place going to dj i/o, and Katherine stealing third from Jose Zagal. You can see the results over in The Minigame Court, and the Virtual Cup is here, now inscribed with Bezman's victory link (www.aciddica.com). A new minigame begins next week, or thereabouts.
  • Speaking of the Religion in Science Fiction serial, does anyone know the date the last episode of Battlestar Galactica is due to air? I'm wondering whether to wait for this before proceeding...
  • Also, I don't suppose anyone knows how the freestyle tricks work in Skydiving (or Go! Sports Skydiving) on the PS3? The manual is as laughibly ropey as the game itself.

Happy Gregorian New Year everyone!

Hacking Restaurants, Post It Design, and Black Swans

Here are where my comments went this week. I couldn't pick one to focus on, so here's the lot. (Extracts are from my comments, not the post itself):

  • Yehuda Berlinger posts on his endless desire to hack restaurant menus. I challenge some of his assumptions. Extract: "If you're running a cheap cafe, dealing with custom orders is too much of a risk: it increases the risk of getting the wrong orders, it increases the demands on the staff... and it increases the chances of disputes with customers."
  • Dan Cook posts about post-it note prototyping designs. Great stuff! But I poke a hole... Extract: "By testing what programmers and designers find fun, aren't you designing games for 10% of people and not 100%? How does the wider audience get a say in developing new kinds of fun by your method?"
  • Raph Koster posts about the ludic fallacy - the tendency to think that game models can be applied to real situations accurately. I get into tangential territory in my comment, as ever. Extract: "I appreciate any attempts to spread suspicion concerning induction (which is what the black swan story is about) - Hume was more than two centuries ago, how are we so slow to accept this idea? Perhaps because we don't want to give up our attachment to science, and science is almost entirely dependent upon induction."
  • Dmitri Williams posts about some newly published gender research in MMORPGs over on Terra Nova. I comment on why female players were "more hardcore" than the males. Extract: "I worry that you will be cited as having claimed that female game players are more intense about their play than male players - which is not what your study found at all."
  • Greg  Tannahil posts that Dead Space and Mirror's Edge will get sequels, claiming Mirror's Edge "possessed no real flaws that another six months in development couldn't have fixed". I point out that from EA's perspective, Mirror's Edge has a fatal flaw: a small potential audience. Extract: "First person platform games are unplayable by many, unpleasant for many, and enjoyable for just a few. Unless they give up first person, I suspect this franchise is commercially doomed."
  • And finally, liberal firebrand Maha posts about the discussions concerning the Bible and gay marriage. I'll be posting about this next year, but here's an extract from my comment: "What seems to be at issue is people in the middle ground... not because the people in question have any express issue towards the Gay community as a *separate* culture, but because they are wary of integrating it into what they see as *their* culture."

Hmmm... I spent much longer on comments this week than usual, and commenting on six different blogs in one day is a rarity when I'm already busy. What was I thinking? Now I have too many dialogues to have any hope of monitoring them all... Oh well, this is a new experiment for me, and I'm sure it'll settle down in time.

Have a great weekend everyone!