"All right action flows from the breath"
- Hajakujo

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Sunday, May 21, 2006


My contribution to the Only a Game Play Specification Symposium.

For the symposium entry, and an explanation on what play specification is, see here. To understand why there is such a thing as play specification, play some low-rating games (maybe an X-men licence), then ask yourself - did the game designer really know what was going on between his game and its players? Or was he just throwing game tropes at the wall and hoping they'd end up a Picasso?

This is probably a controversial entry, from the point of view of being acceptable under the defined genre for entries - shooters. However, I loved this game, and even though it is not strictly shooting, the Constituative rules could be easily fit to a pure shooting game, with an Operative makeover.

Breakout! (who published the original? when? I'll never know, I first played a PC port circa 2000)
Specified by Ben


Move (L/R arrow keys)


Bat (avatar)
Ball (or sphere, polyhedron, polygon, cube, etc depending on your philosophical outlook. I'm a glass half full person (I prefer to ask the more pertinent question - who stole the top half?) so I say its a ball)
Extra Lives
Life Counter


Length (of Bat)
Speed (of Ball)
Consistency (of Blocks)
Effect on Verb (of Power-up)

This is a little hasty in formulation. Possibly copy/paste and cut out the smart comment for clarity :D.
There are fine details that I'd consider important, but couldn't see how to express within this definition structure. Perhaps they just aren't the kind of details this structure deals with. I remember some of the power-ups as being radical enough to alter the whole gameplay, such as the sticky bat, which allowed you to choose when to release the bounce. It was the same bounce, but once you caught the ball you had all the time in the world to position your bat before release. That took all the time pressure off, and when that ball is zipping about at high speed, time pressure is a big gameplay element. But, I suppose the play specification is talking Constituatively, and time pressure is perhaps an Operative consideration (like clocks in chess).

When every game designer is using some kind if formal play specification, its gonna be soooo much easier to implement interesting things with some nice real-time machine learning of player types...but I'll say no more for now ;)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Identity and the Acceleration

Electronic Identity. Its more than just a 128-bit key, RSA encrypted, digital signature. There are growing, even very now, whole worlds of data on the vital statistics, habits, interests, correspondences and dirty secrets of each and every person with digital presence. What do I mean by digital presence? I mean everything that is recorded. Whether the primary source is electronically based or paper and pen, it all gets transcribed and stored in a database somewhere. Census data, loyalty and clubcard data, bank and credit card transactions, phone calls, motorway CCTV recordings, and of course, every key press of every second spent online.
This information repository is vast. It covers many facets of your life, and if collated and analysed, can reveal through statistical heurisitcs very deep and meaningful information about you as a person.

The question is, does anybody care? Nobody is tending the light at the end of the tunnel, nobody is keeping track of us. Not all at once, not in complete detail as outlined above. I hope.

But its getting closer. And those who will be tending the light? I call its name: Google.
Ha ha. No but seriously all those who have gmail - look at the targeted ads, on the top of the inbox. Compose and send a mail (to whomever) about some product, place or item: let's say Finland. Within a few hours, you'll have ads for "Fodor's Travel Wire - Rock Bottom R/T Fares to Finland on Air France! - 4 days ago". Note that's Google sending you a link to 4 day old ad, not Fodor's. Why'd it be 4 days old if Fodor's sent it? They see, they record, they analyse and react. They do all this relatively benignly, but only change the nature of the adverbs and that last sentence could sound a lot more unpleasant.

Now I'm not advocating Luddism. You can't reject the future, even if you can't actually prove that it exists, or talk about it logically (but that's another post).
No, the great thing is to embrace the symptoms of the future, that you will be metamorphosised into a native of the future whether you are active in the process or not. What I'm worried about is that we are being denied access to large portions of our own future identities. Similarly to large corporations trying to trademark individual genes, or even genomes.

Its about the digital signifier population that makes up your electronic identity being accessible to you, controllable by you, and gated by you.
Hmm, I think that sentence warrants another post, with time permitting...