CBC TV: The Artists

The Artists is the story of the creators that were at the forefront of the early video game revolution. It explores the first three decades of video game history.

I just finished watching the CBC TV series, The Artists – Season 1. This is a series of short (9 – 12 minute) video essays that you can watch off the web. The series focuses on the issue of game designers as artists and starts and ends with an early and influential ad, We see farther, that EA (Electronic Arts) ran that showcased their developers, something other companies (like Atari) didn’t do.

The CBC series is well done, though I find the shorts too short. I wish they lingered a bit more over the clips of games and other historic materials. The kinetic style of the shorts may suit the medium, but not the history.

My other gripe is their choice of game designers to feature. There are no Japanese game designers. In fact, it is as if no one outside of the US and Canada designed games at all. They could have also covered some influential women designers like Brenda Laurel.

What is great, is episode 9 on Bioware (and Edmonton!) I didn’t realize that Greg Zeschuk, one of the founders of Bioware, started the Blind Enthusiasm Brewing Company which has a beer brewery and restaurant near my house.

Dan Hett’s game “c ya laterrrr”

c ya laterrrr is text “game” by Dan Hett to document his experience after the Manchester terror attack when he lost his brother. “c ya laterrrr” was the last message he got from his brother. I found the game through an interview with the Guardian that talks about the games he is making. Another games that is less narration and more 8-bit graphics is the Loss Levels made with Pico-8.

As both games deal with the same event they make an interesting comparison of genres. I find the text adventure game much more effective for this subject as you feel the event unfold and the decisions give you a feeling for the experience.

Google AI experiment has you talking to books

Google has announced some cool text projects. See Google AI experiment has you talking to books. One of them, Talk to Books, lets you ask questions or type statements and get answers that are passages from books. This strikes me as a useful research tool as it allows you to see some (book) references that might be useful for defining an issue. The project is somewhat similar to the Veliza tool that we built into Voyant. Veliza is given a particular text and then uses an Eliza-like algorithm to answer you with passages from the text. Needless to say, Talking to Books is far more sophisticated and is not based simply on word searches. Veliza, on the other hand can be reprogrammed and you can specify the text to converse with.

Continue reading Google AI experiment has you talking to books

Opinion | America’s Real Digital Divide

The problem isn’t that poor children don’t have access to computers. It’s that they spend too much time in front of them.

The New York Times has an important Opinion about America’s Real Digital Divide by Naomi S. Riley from Feb. 11, 2018. She argues that TV and video game screen time is bad for children and there is no evidence that computer screen time is helpful. The digital divide is not one of access to screens but one of attitude and education on screen time.

But no one is telling poorer parents about the dangers of screen time. For instance, according to a 2012 Pew survey, just 39 percent of parents with incomes of less than $30,000 a year say they are “very concerned” about this issue, compared with about six in 10 parents in higher-earning households.

Missed the bitcoin boom? Five more baffling cryptocurrencies to blow your savings on

One of the oddest Ethereum projects in operation, CryptoKitties is a three-way cross between Tamagotchis, Beanie Babies and animal husbandry. Users can buy, sell and breed the eponymous cats, with traits inherited down the generations.

The Guardian has a nice story on Missed the bitcoin boom? Five more baffling cryptocurrencies to blow your savings onThe article talks about CryptoKitties, a form of collectible pet (kitty) game that is built on blockchain technology. If you invest you get a kitty or two and then you can breed them to evolve new kitties. The kitties can then be sold as collectibles to others to breed. Apparently 11% of Traffic on the Ethereum Blockchain Is Being Used to Breed Digital Cats (CryptoKitties). If you missed investing in bitcoin, now is the change to buy a kitty or two.

The question is whether this is gambling or a game?

BuzzFeed on Breitbart courting the alt-right

Screen of emails from Dan Lyons

Buzzfeed News has an article on Here’s How Breitbart and Milo Smuggled Nazi and White Nationalist Ideas Into The Mainstream. The article in based on a cache of internal Breitbart emails and mostly deals with what Milo Yiannopoulos was up to.

From this motley chorus of suburban parents, journalists, tech leaders, and conservative intellectuals, Yiannopoulos’s function within Breitbart and his value to Bannon becomes clear. He was a powerful magnet, able to attract the cultural resentment of an enormously diverse coalition and process it into an urgent narrative about the way liberals imperiled America. It was no wonder Bannon wanted to groom Yiannopoulos for media infamy: The bigger the magnet got, the more ammunition it attracted.

Part of the story also deals with some “liberal” journalists who apparently were emailing Milo like Dan Lyons. It just get more and more sordid.

Many of those who wrote Milo seem to be disgruntled people who feel oppressed by the “political correctness” of their situation, whether in a tech company or entertainment business. They email Milo to vent or pass tips or just get sympathy.

Replaying Japan 2017

Geoffrey Rockwell at Arcade Cabinet
Playing Missile Command at the Strong (Photo by Okabe)

Last week I was at the 5th International Conference on Japan Game Studies, Replaying Japan 2017. You can see my conference notes here. The conference was held in the Strong Museum of Play which has a terrific video game collection and exhibit. (I vote for holding all conferences in museums!)

Continue reading Replaying Japan 2017

What It’s Like to Use an Original Macintosh in 2017 – The Atlantic

The Internet Archive’s new software emulator will take you back to 1984.

From Twitter again (channelled from Justin Trudeau) is a story in the Atlantic about the Internet Archive’s early Macintosh emulatorWhat It’s Like to Use an Original Macintosh in 2017. The emulator comes with a curated set of apps and games, including Dark Castle, which I remember my mother liking. (I was more fond of Déjà Vu.) Here is what MacPaint 2.0 looked like back then.

I’m amazed they can emulate the Mac OS in JavaScript. I’m also amazed at the community of people coming together to share old Mac software, manuals, and books with the IA.

Brianna Wu appalled at FBI’s #GamerGate investigative report

Screenshot of text from FBI Report
From FBI #GamerGate Report

The FBI has released their report on #GamerGate after a Freedom Of Information request and it doesn’t seem that they took the threats that seriously. According to a Venturebeat story Brianna Wu (is) appalled at FBI’s #GamerGate investigative report.

Wu, who is running for Congress, said in an email that she is “fairly livid” because it appears the FBI didn’t check out many of her reports about death threats. Wu catalogued more than 180 death threats that she said she received because she spoke out against sexism in the game industry and #GamerGate misogyny that eventually morphed into the alt-right movement and carried into the U.S. presidential race.

It sounds like the FBI either couldn’t trace the threats or they didn’t think they were serious enough and eventually closed down the investigation. In the aftermath of the shooting at the Québec City mosque we need to take the threats of trolls more seriously as Anita Sarkeesian did when she was threatened with a “Montreal Massacre style attack” before speaking at the University of Utah. Yes, only a few act on their threats, but threats piggy-back on the terror to achieve their end. Those making the threats may justify it as just for the lulz, but they do so knowing that some people act on their threats.

On another point, having just given a paper on Palantir I was intrigued to read that the FBI used it in their investigation. The report says that “A search of social media logins using Palantir’s search around feature revealed a common User ID number for two of the above listed Twitter accounts, profiles [Redacted] … A copy of the Palantir chart created from the Twitter results will be uploaded to the case file under a separate serial.” One wonders how useful connecting to Twitter accounts to one ID is.

Near the end of the report, which is really just a collection of redacted documents, there is a heavily redacted email from one of those harassed where all but a couple of lines are left for us to read including,

We feel like we are sending endless emails into the void with you.

Rez Infinite for the PS4

I finally got around to downloading and playing Rez Infinite on the PS4. This is an upgraded (hi-res) version of the original which SEGA released for the Playstation 2 and Dreamcast in 2001. The game is a beautiful rail shooter and a music game which produces trance like electronic music (and vibrations) as you play. There is a traveller mode where you don’t die and you can just make music and travel through the spaces. I found myself wanting to repeat levels to continue the beat.

The new 2016 version for the PS4 support VR (though I don’t have it). It also has an extra level called “Area X” which, while more sophisticated, lacks the charming Tron-like graphic imagination of the rest. It would be interesting to map all the references to Tron in Rez – it too places you as a hacker going through a computing landscape.

Polygon has a story on the Rez producer Tetsuya Mizuguchi on his return to music games. The story mentions a Synesthesia Suit (PDF) created to go with VR games like Rez Infinite. Below is a video from Siggraph 2016 to show (feel) of the suit’s capabilities. I’m intrigued by this intersection of art and game around music.

And here is link to a video showing the suit.