Tag Archives: game

Things 126: Echoes and Bubbles, Time Lies and Lapse, Many Maps

It’s been a while, so I’ve got a lot of links. Hold on to your hats.

Games: Costume Quest, Color

If you or someone you know has never played an RPG-style videogame, I highly recommend DoubleFine’s Costume Quest as the place to start (available on PS3, XBOX 360 and Windows). It’s a really delightful entry into the genre, with a lovely theme, brilliant writing, and it’s also quite short, which is a plus in my book. (via Clare)

Meanwhile, I’d previously linked to Method.ac’s kerning and spline games/competency-assessments. There’s now a fascinating one to do with colour, and by introducing a timing mechanic it’s more game-like than objective assessment-like. Give it a go!

Irresistable Entertainment
Some years ago I remember thinking that technology was just going to get better and better at finding content you’d be interested in, to the point where it would be impossible to drag yourself away from the internet. This compilation video of accidents and unlikely events captured by Russian dashboard-cams is about the closest thing I’ve seen to it, in that it’s 14 minutes long but surprisingly hard to stop watching:

Kevin Kelly worries that this kind of thing will normalise extremely unlikely events:

We no longer want mere presentations, we want the best, greatest, the most extraordinary presenters alive, as in TED. We don’t want to watch people playing games, we want to watch the highlights of the highlights, the most amazing moves, catches, runs, shots, and kicks, each one more remarkable and improbable than the other.

I’m not so sure that’s the natural conclusion, since the tastes of both the collective in general and individuals in particular is evidently broader. I’m also not sure it’s that much of a problem either (or at least not much different to the norm), as storytelling through the ages has always concerned itself with unlikely (or even entirely fictional) events.

(Incidentally, Russian dash-cams are also the first noticeable stage in the development of an ubiquitous public surveillance network, which on the one hand enable us to get multiple videos of rarely-filmed events such as meteorites, but on the other hand demonstrate how crowd-sourcing is a convenient way to get over the installation-problem for achieving a 1984-style surveillance state).

Echo Chambers and Filter Bubbles
Another interesting effect of the internet’s ability to show us stuff we like is the danger of ‘echo chambers’ (people only reading the work of those they agree with and passing on links and sentiments from those people) and ‘filter bubbles’ (in which people only follow or get algorithmically shown content that supports their own views, reinforcing confirmation bias). Fortunately a study on Facebook’s data suggests that the echo chamber effect isn’t as bad as we might expect.

Meanwhile this review of the Filter Bubble book on BoingBoing raises the very reasonable counter-argument: “anti-filtering” tools are also developing.

Time Lies
Holly Gramazio of Hide&Seek consistently lies about time in order to make game experiences better. This seems reasonable and useful.

Grand Central train station lies in a similar way, although not by setting their clocks fast as this widely shared article’s headline suggests (which would make people panic and run more), but rather by lying about the real departure time of trains (which is slightly more likely to ease those crucial final seconds of a late boarding attempt).

Of course, both of these effects become weaker when more people know about them. What I’d like is a clock modifier for my mobile which sets the time 1 minute fast most of the time, but on a random, say, 2% of days it instead shows the real time, so I’d know I couldn’t simply factor in that ‘extra’ minute.

T.M. 12/04/13: Richard B adds a local example: “In Heathrow Terminal 5 the information screens in the duty free area lie about the gates opening for boarding in order to control passenger flow and disperse them when the concourse is becoming too crowded.”

Time Lapse
Tsuneaki Hiramatsu took some time lapse photos of Fireflies (with a bit of compositing), which turns out to be just as brilliant an idea as it sounds.

What if you just took a vertical slit of a photo, repeatedly, as something moved past, then composited those pixel-thin images? I’m glad you asked. (A technique along these lines may explain how Rainer Gamsjäger’s video “State of Flux — wave #1″, which baffled me at EIFF 2010, was achieved)

Finally, here’s a different kind of Time Slice by Giuseppe Penone, which incredibly is just what it looks like: an old tree, with parts cut away to reveal its younger self:

Tumblr Tips
Tumblr themes commonly hide the link to the ‘archive’ view, but you can get it just by appending “/archive” to the URL. This is really useful when you want to get a quick overview of a Tumblr’s contents. For example, instead of paging through iheartcatgifs.tumblr.com, you can instead go straight to iheartcatgifs.tumblr.com/archive (and then do something else while you wait for the page to load..!)

Alternatively you can use this tool to automatically identify the top 10 most popular items from a Tumblr by year, based on the number of ‘notes’ (although this can take a little while to process, which is fair enough). For example, you can see the 10 most popular comics from Horse eComics (which are based on a Twitter account that tweets random excerpts from books) here.

Maps: Tube maps, Rearranged cities
A popular semi-regular feature of Things is alternative tube maps (see the better tube map, to-scale tube map, curvy tube map, and travel-time interactive tube map).  So we might as well just cut to the chase and go straight to this site which excellently curates all manner of tube map variations. (via Sophie)

Meanwhile, in the world of rearranging maps based on non-locational criteria, Odd Things Happen When You Chop Up Cities And Stack Them Sideways.

I’ve sat on this link for far too long – a wonderful Gigapan exploreable photo of London. The distant London Eye, at maximum zoom, reveals the individual people in each capsule. It’s like having super powered vision.

Finally, not enough people seem to know about bird’s-eye-view in Bing maps, which provides a really useful mid-ground between Google’s satellite imagery and streetview. Try it out!

Things 125: Fun Club, Robot Books, Mirror Spider, Frog Fractions

Tim Link
As noted last time (which was, admittedly, a while ago), Octopus Fruitbat put on Competitive Sandwich Making at the Hide & Seek Weekender games event, with help from Phil and Deb. I wrote about it here, and it looked a bit like this:

Thing I Bought And Would Recommend: Fun Club
The webcomic “Cat and Girl” was originally recommended by me in Things 1, which I wrote so long ago the obscure Japanese game show video I linked to in the same edition has already spawned a UK version that in itself is now old news.

Cat and Girl is written by Dorothy Gambrell, who I’ve also mentioned in earlier Things as the author of Very Small Array, a sort of hybrid blog of data visualisation and cultural-critique.

What I’m trying to say is that Dorothy Gambrell is awesome, so when she makes a thing called Fun Club in which you buy a year-long subscription to receive monthly random things she makes, you should probably check it out. 2012 was the first year it ran, and included a diary for the year with complete-it-yourself personal data visualisations, a set of useful stickers that say ‘Bad Decision’ in large block capitals, and some postcards featuring combination bread/sausage creations she baked in the style of the electrical standards of various countries:

So if you like that sort of thing, you should probably sign up for the 2013 edition.

Video: The Spider
Here we see the fascinating results of confronting a spider with the Mirror Test. If you’re scared of spiders, you may find it worth gritting your teeth through to around 46s when the spider completely freaks itself out [note, the audio is not essential, but is quite apt]:

Link: Books by Robots?
I’m assuming that it’s some combination of things like Amazon Mechanical Turk and the recent developments in economical on-demand book printing that mean you can now buy this amazingly specific book on Amazon:

Imagine you were an aspiring bagel maker. How could you possibly resist such a perfectly titled book?

Well, you might be suspicious. If there’s a book like this for bagel-makers, how many other careers have they covered? Do a bit of searching, and you find further unlikely  variations on the theme, including books on how to land ‘Top-Paying’ jobs as a Binding Worker, Conservation Scientist, or Roughneck.

At this point, you might assume they are all essentially the same book with generally applicable advice on careers, interviews and the like, just with different covers.

But no!

Each book has a different author (so must be different), and thanks to the ‘look inside’ feature, we can see that the bagel book includes information specific to the baking industry:

We can’t be certain how much of this content was harvested automatically, but based on current trends I expect to see robots of the future writing arbitrarily many of books in this vein, and whole ecosystems of robot arbitrage emerging in the second-hand market for those books. Don’t let anyone tell you the future isn’t bright.

Game: Frog Fractions (via Dom)
This is a really fascinating flash game which you should definitely play if you like… games. I don’t want to say too much about it, but be advised that there is more to it than first meets the eye. Much more.

Set aside some time to improve your life by playing Frog Fractions.

-Transmission Ends

Things 124: Puzzles & Polaroids, Bond is now Bourne, Cooking Tips

OctopusFruitbat Game Write-upPuzzles & Polaroids at the British Museum
Clare and I were asked by Stubble & Glasses (who I also happen to work for) to design and run a company game event in a professional capacity, because some of them had enjoyed some of our earlier game events. So we formed a company called OctopusFruitbat, came up with something that combined puzzle-solving with creative instant-photo-taking, and it went a bit like this. If you’re ever looking for someone to come up with a similar event, of if you want advice on doing something yourself, please do get in touch!

Also don’t forget, this Friday I’ll be running Competitive Sandwich Making (which last year went like this) as part of the amazing all-weekend festival of gaming that is Hide&Seek’s Weekender at the Southbank Centre.

I’ve been nurturing the idea that films that follow the “They Made Him, Then Tried To Kill Him, Now He Must Fight Them” storyline are rising to such prominence that it must be some kind of Hero’s Journey for the modern age (I’m thinking Bourne, Hitman, Grosse Pointe Blank, Kill Bill, Blade, Ultraviolet…). The closest I could find on TV Tropes was Contract on the Hitman, which doesn’t quite nail it.

On metafilter, wuwei draws it out more explicitly by contrasting James Bond with Jason Bourne:

Who is our generation’s James Bond? Jason Bourne. He can’t trust his employer, who demanded ultimate loyalty and gave nothing in return. […] Bourne survives as a result of his high priced, specialized education. He can do things few people can do […] and like the modern, (sub)urban professional, Bourne had to mortgage his entire future to get that education. They took everything he had, and promised that if he gave himself up to the System, in return the System would take care of him. It turned out to be a lie.

(You can read the post in full here).

Is there any evidence that there really has been such a transition, that corporations are now violating the social contract in some way that they weren’t before? The three charts in this article do seem to actually endorse this idea – Corporate Profits Just Hit An All-Time High, Wages Just Hit An All-Time Low.

Here are some pictures with captions that have some amazing food-preparation tips, for example:

Previous PuzzleThe Shrinking Empires
Last time I asked why Empires seemed to be getting geographically smaller. I’ve actually asked this question when interviewing analysts, and get two kinds of answers.

The most common answer is that population density is increasing, and apparently human political power tends to stabilise around the 10m-50m range. For example, the Roman Empire was pretty big, but probably only covered ~60 million or so people, ten times fewer than those living in the same geographical area today (according to Citation Needed, but hey, it sounds about right).

A more interesting idea is that it has something to do with technology and inequality. I once heard it said that technology is not politically neutral – for example, Nuclear Power requires greater centralisation of government power than, say Wind Power – and I find this an appealing idea. Perhaps, for example, improved forms of communication give greater power to the people, who are then better able to resist tyrants with aspirations of empire-building through war.

But the more I dig into this, the more it starts to look like post-rationalisation, because I can imagine giving examples to prove the opposite. If everyone can manufacture guns cheaply, is it easier to terrify your populace with asymmetric power you can give your enforcers, or is “a well armed population the best defense against dictatorship”? If you improve transport, is it easier to avoid conscription, or easier to wage war? If you combine Moore’s law with the internet to create continuous public surveillance, do you end up creating a single global culture with no crime, or do you permanently enforce the power structures that exist at the point of implementation? Well, that’s a question for another day.

PuzzleGoogle Correlations
Google Correlate lets you find closely correlating Google search term trends, which sometimes gives silly results by coincidence, and sometimes reveals something very interesting. The question is, how many of these correlations can you explain?

Things 119: Journey, Tree Record, Climb and Descent

Game: Journey
If you’re a gamer, you’ve probably heard about Journey. If you’re not a gamer, then you should have heard about it anyway, because it’s quite beautiful and amazing, and only takes 2-3 hours to play through, which means you could visit a friend that has a PS3 and play it in one sitting.

But why would you want to do that?

In this interview, Jenova Chen, the game’s creative director, says:

“Augustine wrote: ‘People will venture out to the height of the mountain to seek for wonder. They will stand and stare at the width of the ocean to be filled with wonder. But they will pass one another in the street and feel nothing. Yet every individual is a miracle. How strange that nobody sees the wonder in one another.’

“There’s this assumption in video games that if you run into a random player over the Internet, it’s going to be a bad experience. You think that they will be an asshole, right? But listen: none of us was born to be an asshole. […] It is the system that made the player cruel, not the player themselves. So if I get the system correct, the players are human and their humanity will be drawn out. I want to bring the human value into a game and change the player’s assumption.”

The reason I say the game is amazing is that it succeeds at this seemingly impossible aim. I’ve played through it a few times now, and each time I’ve had at least one incredibly positive and sustained play experience with a complete stranger.


[Video not working, try this search – metatim, 02/08/15]

Film: The Cabin in the Woods
If you like horror films, you really should watch The Cabin in the Woods. I don’t think it quite succeeds at Joss Whedon’s stated aim (which you shouldn’t look up until after you’ve seen it), but it’s worth it for the wonderfully insane final half hour or so, which, impressively, the trailer largely resists showing any of:


[Video not working, try this search – metatim, 02/08/15]

Video: Tree Record / Years
The technology to turn wistful ideas into a reality is in our hands. Look at this device and imagine what you want it to do:

Now check out the video, where it does exactly that:

Read a bit about it here.

Puzzle: Climb and Descent
Tarim recently introduced me to levels 1 and 2 of a puzzle I’d only ever previously heard set at level 3. This week: level 1.

On Day 1, Joss Whedon hikes his way up a mountain, starting at the bottom at midday, and reaching the top (with a few rest stops along the way) 12 hours later, at midnight. He basks in the glory of his achievement for 12 hours, then at midday on Day 2 sets off back down the mountain, reaching the the bottom 12 hours later again, at midnight.

The question: is there a particular time at which he passed through exactly the same altitude on both his Days 1 ascent and Day 2 descent?

Answer: Voice recognition
A long time ago I asked what one could do to improve the chances of having your words understood by one of the many would-be voice-recognition services we find around us today.

After a bunch of googling around, the answers seem to be:

  • Reduce ambient noise where possible
  • Don’t speak too loudly and close to the microphone
  • Leave longer gaps between words than you might in natural speech
  • Speak with the accent the device was tested for

That last point is the one I’m most interested in. The question is, what accent should you use?

It seems the various companies offering this service (Apple/Siri, Google voice search, Xbox Kinect) do have to release different versions for different parts of the English-speaking world (I don’t have a good source for that, but it’s the impression I get from their staged releases, people’s reported experiences, and common sense).

My next plan is to carry out a small personal test in which I try putting on different accents. Results will of course be reported here.