Linksplosion: T-shirts, ‘Hefty Seamstress’, and more

Screenshot: "I'm no genius": Heavy Seamstress in action

I’d promised to write something, anything!, for Artifice Books, but its editor Tadd was not too sure about my very first pitch, a catalogue of movie clips in which women get punched in the face.

So I scrapped that plan, and instead I have written on the subject of George Buckenham and Jonathan Whiting’s Hefty Seamstress. I recommend playing the game, too (it’s over here).

A screenshot from 'The Sea will Claim Everything'

I got a really nice, personalized press email from “Gnome”—his real name is Konstantinos Dimopoulos, I’ve just learned!—and he is campaigning hard for the Bundle-in-a-Box Adventure Games bundle. As with many other bundles, this collection is pay-what-you-like; not only are seven games included, a copy of the well-received Ben There, Dan That! is in the mix. Why, yes, the games are DRM-free, since you were wondering. In the meantime, the Bundle-in-a-Box heralds the launch of The Sea Will Claim Everything. All this can be yours for just hundreds of pennies! PC adventure gamers, you can’t beat that!

How They Died by Aled Lewis

Aled Lewis’s “How They Died” is now available as a T-shirt.

Photo: New Buff Monster minis look a lot like Katamari

I’m not sure Buff Monster’s new series of minis is supposed to look like Katamari, but ALBOTAS is right to make the comparison anyway.

Foldschool Heroes: turn classic systems into papercraft

Foldskool Heroes (via it8bit) is a downloadable template that you can turn into custom papercraft of your own. I really like this! It sort of reminds me of those blank vinyl Soopa Coin-Up Bros figurines.

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Post-mortem: I’m not sorry

Follow-up: in March, during GDC, writer Dan Cox interviewed me via email about this “controversy.” His questions, along with my answers, probably go much further in explaining my attitude. My editor and I also explain our “go big or go home” mentality—as well as our happiness in playing the roles of villains—in the final quarter of this episode of Unlistenable.

OK, I’m sorry for just one thing: I’m sorry I have such a wonderful editor.

I was barely into the thread itself by the time I was hard at work on a YouTube-type comment.

In considering both the comment thread and the blog above it—which I’d interpreted as some litany, as some unreal catalogue of hither-and-thither complaints—I wanted to respond, because I know that professionals who are enmeshed in any sort of politic business are unable to respond to these types of criticisms, or with any passionate emphasis. This makes me angry all on its own.

Also, professionally and personally, I was deeply unimpressed.

As my remarks snowballed, though, I realized I should write something for myself, just to let it all out. Well, and when I say “for myself,” I mean “for Infinite Lives,” which is my site and oh my god I periodically drag my co-writer through the mud when I irresponsibly follow some wild livejournal tangent.

So suddenly I wasn’t working on a frothing Internet comment at all; I was writing a piece for this very site instead.

My editor IM’d, wanting to know whether my column were finished yet, and I was very, “NOT NOW I’M BUSY” to him. He wondered what I was writing, so I sent it to him in four or five chunks over IM. He announced he wanted to publish it, and from there we really giddily lost our minds, our enthusiasm mirroring and magnifying. He cut one chunk and I cut another, and now we agreed the piece was totally ready to go. He gave it a much better title and suggested some images, and I told him I was all-in. I endorsed every addition myself. I was furious and happy.

For me, it was as much about “fun” as it was “ire.” I decided, if I were going to feel irate about something, wouldn’t it be great fun to just run all the way? Because it’s totally true—I’ve forced my writing to be this very level-headed, contemplative thing for a long time. I’ve always held that “manners are how we show strangers we care,” and I certainly believe it.

But I’ve also noticed I do that thing girls do: I rely on “hedged” diction to couch everything I say in some sort of apology. Maybe it would be nice, for once, to forget judiciousness.

So here the article is again.

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An interview with Jake Elliott

I interviewed game developer Jake Elliott in time for last year’s Indie Games Festival, but I never posted it anywhere. I knew the interview was too, too long for publication, okay, but it was just so great, I didn’t want to let any of it go. (I interviewed Jake over Skype during the big Chicago blizzard.)

Now, there is a far more readable version of this interview at; in the meantime I got special permission to post the less-edited version right here.

Jake’s latest work, The Penguin’s Dilemma, will be a playable installation at Super Button Mashers, a gallery exhibit opening February 11 at Chicago’s OhNo!DOOM. Don’t miss it! I’m serious!

Jenn: Let’s see. Uh, so. I should have reread my notes before this.

Jake: Oh, that’s cool. I don’t have any notes to work from.

Ha! That’s awesome. Also I am really bad at interviewing. I’m okay at having a conversation, though?

Well, okay! That’s fine!

So you’re actually nominated in [last] year’s IGF Nuovo category for A House in California. And this is an adventure game with really simple images, and simple, kind of graphical parser commands?


And I played Hummingbird Mind yesterday, and in comparison it seems like that game is simpler to play? Because it’s maybe all [conversation] trees? But visually it’s actually more complicated?

Yeah. It’s, like, photos….

Yeah, it’s photos, right. Exactly. So I guess I was curious about the aesthetic decision you made with House in California.

I mean, mostly it was a strategy about what I thought might be—like, I don’t really have much skill in rendering graphics and drawing, or anything like that, so it all kind of started as a strategy about how I could do everything in a game, for myself, without borrowing graphics from other people. In something like Hummingbird Mind, they’re all Creative Commons licensed photos from Flickr that I did some processing on.

Oh! I didn’t realize that. I actually—
Yeah, I don’t call it out anywhere, but I mean, I credit the people in the—

No, I thought maybe you actually, um, had just, like, wandered around your apartment or neighborhood…

Right. I wanted to do something like that, but then I didn’t, and I just stole most of them. Or borrowed them, or whatever. Used them. [laughs]

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Super Button Mashers: a Gamer Tribute at OhNo!ARCADE

Super Button Mashers postcard front

This could well be the first-ever ALL GAMES-THEMED exhibit to ever open in Chicago.

“Super Button Mashers,” opening February 11, 2012, features an incredible roster of artists:

Aya Kakeda, Alex Willan, Ben Spencer, Blütt, Brandon Garrison, Brain Killer, Brian Stuhr, Brian Walline, Brianne Drouhard, CHema Skandal!, Cory Benhatzel, CZR PRZ, David Palumbo, David Rettker, Eric Broers, Glen Brogan, Isaac Bidwell, James Liu, Jason Castillo, Jenny Frison, Jeremiah Ketner, J.Shea, Joey D, Jordan Elise, Lana Crooks, Leeanna Butcher, Luisa Castellanos, Martin Hsu, Matt Hawkins, Matthew Ryan Sharp, Max Bare, Melissa Sue Stanley, Mike Budai, Mike Graves, Mr. Walters, Natalie Blue Phillips, Nathan West, Sean Dove, Shawn Smith, Shayne Labadie, Steff Bomb, Steph Laberis, Tyler Coey, Yosiell Lorenzo, Zoë Bare, and Plush Team

Super Button Mashers postcard back

What an all-star cast! I am so damn thrilled I don’t know what to do with myself.

And one more thing: curator Max Bare somehow convinced Chicago’s own Jake Elliott to submit an arcade game to the exhibit! It is an all-new game, and it will be playable at the show.

Super Button Mashers Mega Opening
February 11, 6:00 PM-10:00 PM
1800 N. Milwaukee
Chicago IL 60647
Tuesday and Thursday 4:00 PM-10:00 PM
Saturday 12:00 PM-7:00 PM

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Excerpts from Ben Jackson’s essay in the upcoming ‘Distance’

FarmVille, a Zynga property

My friend Nick Disabato recently founded a quarterly print publication called Distance, which pledges to underscore “longform essays about design and technology.” It launches next month.

Nick himself is something of a comparative media Renaissance guy, and on the whole I trust his judgment. Last week he recommended I skim an excerpt from one of the magazine’s first essays. The piece was written by somebody named Benjamin Jackson. Nick suggested I might find Ben’s work “interesting.”

Um, yes. Yes, I found it interesting. Why, a week and a half earlier I had hemorrhaged something passingly similar to Ben’s excerpt, albeit nothing so cohesive.

You owe it to yourself to read Ben’s essay, too, because it connects seemingly disparate ideas about patternicity, carrot-dangling, “gambling,” and the ethics of the con:

It was later revealed that the machine, more commonly known as the Mechanical Turk, was an elaborately constructed ruse, where a highly-skilled human chess player of extremely small stature was hidden in the cabinet. Openings on the sides revealed gears, levers and machinery designed to misdirect the viewer into thinking that the Baron had devised some mechanical means of intelligently responding to a player’s moves.

The Mechanical Turk is an early example of unethical game design. Later examples include three-card monte, in which a spectator is shown a card, is asked to follow it with their eyes, and is then misled into following the wrong card. Many casino games are unethical: for example, slot machines usually randomize their payouts to ensure that players keep coming back, even when they’re clearly losing money. But unethical traits can appear in any game, no matter how subtle, and a recent crop of games shows a fuzzier moral ground.

The primary characteristic of unethical games is that they are manipulative, misleading, or both. From a user experience standpoint, these games display dark patterns: common design decisions that trick users into doing something against their will. Dark patterns are usually employed to maximize some metric of success, such as email signups, checkouts, or upgrades; they generally test well when they’re released to users.

For example, FarmVille, Tap Fish, and Club Penguin take advantage of deep-rooted psychological impulses to make money from their audiences. They take advantage of gamers’ completion urge by prominently displaying progress bars that encourage leveling up. They randomly time rewards in much the same way as the slot machines described above. And they spread virally by compelling players to constantly post requests to their friends’ walls.

This trend is not just limited to social games, though: many combat games, like America’s Army, are funded by the U.S. military and serve as thinly-veiled recruitment tools5. Some brands have launched Facebook games like Cheez-It’s Swap-It!, and they serve as tools to sell more products. These techniques can be used in any sort of game, in any context.

What, with all these concurrent ideas about “scams,” is Ben readying to describe to us?

ZYNGA. He is about to discuss ZYNGA.

A longer excerpt appeared this afternoon at The Atlantic. Now you can really see how cohesive Ben’s piece is. It is all about the maturation of the con, how Zynga lands us, hook, line, and sinker.

Here is an especially magnetic aside about “what” makes a “game” “good,” and why we might choose to invest in any game the way we do (it strongly borrows from the sociological idea of “cost,” wherein every human relationship is a type of transaction):

At IndieCade in October 2011, Adam Saltsman, Canabalt’s creator, discussed the notion of “time until death.” All of us have a finite amount of time on earth, and any time we spend on a particular activity is time that we can’t spend doing something else. This means that the time we spend gaming represents most of a game’s cost of ownership, far more than any money that we spend. If that time is enjoyable (or rather, if its benefits outweigh its costs), then the game was worth our time.

Really exciting stuff; I can’t wait to see what the entire essay contains.

You can help Nick Disabato kickstart Distance over here.

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‘Leaky World’ game aspires to explain the philosophy of WikiLeaks

Earlier this month, the Wikileaks Stories project invited independent game developers to turn leaked documents into playable computer games (c.f. Storytelling 2.0: Exploring the news game).

And now for the first complete game submission! Leaky World: a Playable Theory is, its developers explain, an interactive illustration of Julian Assange’s 2006 essay “Conspiracy as Governance.”

As a demonstration, Leaky World conveys how information travels among nations, but also how too much centralization (imperialism?) permits these informational “leaks.” And because uncontrolled leaks will eventually result in radicalized dissent from the unwashed masses, the leaked headlines must be squelched as fast as possible by severing diplomatic ties between nations. I think? Is that what is going on?

As a game, Leaky World is high-speed connect-the-dots. Aesthetically it resembles an Introversion game, probably because of the world map and the metaphors and all the stress.


Daily Linksplosion: Friday, December 24, 2010

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Playing through the 2011 IGF Nuovo final-list: Loop Raccord

Now that the IGF’s Nuovo Award Finalists have been announced, I hope it’s safe for me to post my impressions of another strong contender, Loop Raccord.

In Loop Raccord, the player is tasked with finding just the right spot in an animated gif, splicing it there, and then reversing the footage so that it creates an infinite loop.

In any given stage, videos are arranged in a grid, 12 at a time, everything moving and bobbing and jumping all at once. Its no-frills presentation is jarringly ugly. It’s a YTMND migraine. It isn’t even fun. And I couldn’t stop playing it. Oh, my god, I came back to it again and again.

And I was horrified, too, because I knew that clearing all these stages was pointless: the game was developed according to the Experimental Gameplay Project’s Neverending theme. Loop Raccord’s visual cacophony is endless. I knew I was headed nowhere! And yet I was completely arrested.

What should video games do? Often we—I am lumping myself in with critics and reviewers, but game-makers say this, too—tell designers to ‘engage the player,’ without considering what we’re really saying. What does that even mean, to ‘engage’ someone?

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Playing through the 2011 IGF Nuovo final-list: A House in California

I have a Mystery House ROM for my Apple II emulator, and I’m going to be truthful, Mr. Jake Elliott: your A House in California did not exactly resemble it as advertised.

Oh, sure, A House in California, recently named a nominee for the IGF’s coveted Nuovo Award, is all stark white flixels against a black backdrop, in the style of some early 1980s graphic adventure game. It is point-and-click interactive fiction, terribly sparse, with all possible parser commands weighting the bottom of the screen.

But the commands are strange—“Remember”? “Forget”? “Befriend”?—and sometimes, depending on what I accomplish in the game, the commands change. That is disturbing. But also, inexplicably satisfying, to see that I am somehow changing things with my actions?

I now totally get why House in California was included in this year’s Learn to Play gallery exhibit: the game uses a lot of “dream logic” and “guess-what-the-designer-wants-you-to-do,” and as you explore and progress, you find yourself making real sense of the game’s mediations. Like other good games that toy with their chosen genres, this game demands that the player learn its secret language.

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Talkin’ bout Jason Nelson’s art games

Right before I started playing Jason Nelson’s games, I had been reading an article by some neurobiologist about the connection between agoraphobia and “spatial estrangement” and modernity and urbanity. I was in exactly the right mental room already.

Then Mr. Nelson emailed me about his “odd art games,” many of which you can play right in your web browser by visiting Arctic Acre. (In his email, he also suggested that I visit Jason Nelson’s School of Games. You should probably go watch his video lecture series, too, because it is hilarious. There are currently 16 episodes, each only seconds long.)

Maybe ‘odd’ is almost the wrong word for his games: they’re straightforward 2D platformers, with moving and jumping and spatial circumnavigation and an end destination in sight, so that the way to play is immediately discernible even to your mom. But as you run-and-collect, the screens become cluttered with prose noise, taking on the likeness and verve of treated text. Everything feels very inaccessible and obfuscated despite the mechanics’ simplicity.

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Learn to Play’s digital and analog game art

note: Umm, this finished draft is dated 09/14. Sorry I didn’t post it earlier.

Learn to Play, a gallery exhibit slated to open at Cupertino’s Euphrat Museum of Art, promises challenging, playable game art for its attendees. Some of the digital installations will ring familiar: there’s Jonatan Söderström (Cactus); Mark Essen (messhof); Superbrothers; and more.

Chicago’s own Jake Elliott’s playable piece will interest vintage Sierra fans, as it’s essentially Roberta Williams’ Mystery House, transformed into an unhappy, domestic drama.

The Learn to Play exhibit runs proper from October 4 through November 24, but rubberneckers can catch its preview September 17-18.

Learn to Play
Euphrat Museum of Art
De Anza College
21250 Stevens Creek Boulevard
Cupertino, CA 95014-5793


Daily Linksplosion: Monday, October 25, 2010

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Daily Linksplosion: Tuesday, September 14, 2010

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The Room, the video game

I saw this posted to Twitter eight gajillion times yesterday, and I never even got to play it until only just now, because I was on my goddamn iPhone, far from a laptop computer with all its Flash capabilities. But! The story is this. The Behemoth’s Tom Fulp (Alien Hominid, Castle Crashers) has created a playable version of The Room for Newgrounds, and it is so amazing.

I watched Tommy Wiseau’s cinematic masterpiece The Room last month, and for weeks it was all I could think or talk about (and sorry for the protracted absence, but, The Room, people). The movie, though: it is incredible. My friend Robyn’s DVD player is all messed up, so we had to watch the movie with subtitles. Believe me, you should watch with subtitles. The disc even subtitles all the R&B songs that play during the lovemaking scenes! And there are myriad lovemaking scenes, so. Subtitles!

From its very introduction, the point-and-click adventure game establishes a number of familiar themes you’ll likely remember from the film: Johnny’s martyrdom; the implausible San Francisco vista; the music. As you play on, you’ll discover that the flower shoppe is meticulously recreated, as is Johnny’s apartment’s rooftop and spiral staircase and bowl-full-of-apples table centerpiece, and the dialogue. If you’ve never seen The Room, you might think the game dialogue’s utter lack of punctuation isn’t deliberate, but you’d be wrong. Perhaps the game reproduces the film almost to a fault—as a fairly straightforward adaptation, it does bill itself as a “tribute”—and yet there are other creative licenses taken. For instance, the interior of Denny’s apartment, heretofore unseen, rings sociopathically true. Other cinematic plotholes, like whatever happened to Chris the Thug, are kindly cemented in by Mr. Fulp (“Thanks Johnny, you’re our favorite citizen!”). And most impressively, within the adventure game’s limited narrative framework, the characters and their intentions make a lot more sense here than they do in the movie version. Which is weird.

The game is, by most standards, NSFW, as it includes cartoon nudity, as well as—true to its source material!—cartoon sex. In the end, The Room The Game is a labor of love by a guy who has seen the movie far too many times, and who absolutely gets it. The adaptation of The Room, absurdly, works better as a game than it ever did as a movie, if only for Mr. Fulp’s competence as a designer.


Daily Linksplosion: Wednesday, August 18, 2010

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