Monday 31 March 2008

Programming language?

I've watched with bemusement over a few of the language wars that periodically erupt on, with the kind of wry amusement of somebody who has learned C and realises everything worth doing can be done with it.

However, I'm at the start of prototyping a game project as a sideline to Unangband. And I'd like to stretch my programming legs.

I need something with a very quick time-to-screen. That's like time to crate, but I need to start outputting vector graphics very quickly, in order to test procedurally generation of in-game characters. I also need something with good handling of large bit vectors array, for genetic algorithms, and the ability to scale up to millions of individual actors. And a strong database back end so I can readily do reporting over the large amount of data that'll be generated.

And it has to be multi-platform.

C is not particularly suited to any of these tasks.


Saturday 29 March 2008

Siren Shiren Shining

For those of you who went out and bought Mysterious Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer on my suggestion, John Harris has a new @ Play column discussing the game, with an emphasis on hints for new players.

The Video Game Name Generator Competition

I mentioned previously that March featured a number of make-a-game competitions, including the 7 Day Roguelike Competition. Well, another one has just concluded, and the Independent Gaming Source is now featuring the 48 entries. I've seen profiles for a few of these already on other major gaming websites and there are plenty of ludicrously named entries vying for your attention.

Thursday 27 March 2008

CrossOver Games for OS/X

In one of my many alternate guises, I happen to be a Mac user. So it's with interest that I see that Codeweavers have released CrossOver Games, a games dedicated version of CrossOver Office. I already use CrossOver Office for game playing on the Mac - you'd have difficulty levering me away from my Team Fortress 2 fix at the moment. But CrossOver Games is built on a newer and shinier Wine version, in which 3d graphics support has improved significantly.

So far, I've just downloaded and installed Steam, which seems... steamier. The interface is a lot snappier and the CrossOver games downloader included lots of fonts, which appears to fix the many steam font issues. There's still refresh problems on the interface and the Macbook CPU fan starts spinning as soon as it launches, but I can handle that.

I'm going to have to transfer all my Steam backups around to save on download bandwidth which takes a little fiddling. There's a suggestion on the comments section of the blog post announcing the release as to how to avoid this, but I can't see an easy Mac equivalent and I don't want to break things. I imagine it's just a process of linking more folders than the Linux equivalent, due to the different OS/X directory layout.

Noctis: IV

As a part of the series of articles on Procedural Content Generation, I mentioned a DOS based game that featured a large procedurally generated universe to explore, but couldn't recall the name. Sekenre from the Introversion forums has reminded me of the name of the game: Noctis. It is a game of the categorical insanity that I termed Amateur.

You can download it from the Noctis homepage. I highly recommend the wikipedia entry for a good overview of what it entails.

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Angband and T.o.M.E. for Nokia (Linux) Tablets

I've just had a comment in a previous post you may be interested in:

"My name is Arnim Sauerbier and I am the sporadic maintainer/porter of Angband and TOME for the Nokia (linux) Internet Tablets. Some kind of linkage would be welcome to help ensure people find my packages."

Linked away.

I maintain a list of roguelike related links towards the bottom of the right-hand sidebar. I don't link to specific variants here, but any general roguelike resources are fine. Let me know if you know of anything else that might be appropriate.

Sunday 23 March 2008

Unangband Edit Files - Part One (Overview)

Unangband takes a data driven approach to much of the game design. Where possible, game rules are abstracted into external edit files which are contained in the lib/edit subdirectory. These files are parsed in using code within init1.c and then turned into binary data which is then reparsed in init2.c. The binary data is held in the lib/data subdirectory with a .raw file corresponding to each .txt file in lib/edit.

This allows high performance loading of the data contained in the edit files in a platform independent manner - they are only reparsed in the event the edit file date is newer than the data file date, or the Unangband version number increased. If you change the internal Unangband code to read these files or the type definitions of any data structure used in these files, you should delete the .raw files before reloading - otherwise you may end up with unusual errors due to bad data which could potentially crash the game and/or corrupt save files and other data.

Although game logic is contained in the edit files, it is not equivalent to scripting. The edit file language is simple, consisting of comment lines, starting with a # symbol, blank lines and data definition lines. The data definition lines almost always act as defining part of a row of a data table. This is almost always a large array of elements of a C structure. e.g. the monster.txt file defines a large array of elements of monster_race. The edit files are simply a way of extending the existing tables.c file to include a lot more elements, and should be read in conjunction with the relevant structures defined in types.h and with heavy use of grep to determine where the data and structures are used in the Unangband code.

The Unangband table based data design would be better supported in a SQL like language, or Lisp or even extended with Lua or another scripting language. Unangband may be rewritten using one of these languages at some point. The paper Scaling Games to Epic Proportions ( discusses a SQL like language supporting game elements on a massive scale that may be of interest. Avoiding scripting is not without complications in the game design, but at the moment there are no compelling reasons to make Unangband support scripting.

A data definition line starts with a letter followed by a colon, followed by either one or more colon separated fields, or flags separated by white space and vertical bars (|). There are three basic types of edit file: indexed files, Markov chained files, and table files.

In the first type of file, the data is organised in blocks starting with a N: data line, which defines data block as corresponding to the nth element of the array, and usually the name of the element. e.g.

N:1:the first element

N:2:the second element

etc. These are used where the index is important, such as when referring to a particular monster race or character class number.

The second type consists of array elements that are strung together using a Markov chain approach. The first line of each element usually defines the block number, and a simple algorithm goes through the array, finds elements corresponding to the same block and picks one, then chooses the next block based on selection criteria within the element chosen, and repeats until a block number of 0 is chosen. These files usually build a sentence such as a room description, or character history. Because of the design of these files, the unique element number is not as important, so it is not usually defined in the file.

The third type is where the file builds a table. Each line corresponds to one row of the table, with numeric values separated by colons corresponding to each column.

To emphasise: the data structure in all three types is an array of elements of a C structure - it's just a matter of how the information is presented in the file and parsed is slightly different.

String values in the files are stored as indexes into a separate chunk of contiguous zero byte delimited strings. Each string currently has a unique index even though the string may be potentially duplicated elsewhere in the file. Usually two separate chunks of strings are used for a file: one for names, and one for descriptions. During the parsing process in init1.c, a maximal size chunk is allocated using malloc, the size of which is defined in lib/edit/limits.txt - and then once the size is known, it is written to the .raw file so that the correct size is allocated when the .raw file is read in.

It is possible to build a distribution of Unangband which does not allow the lib/edit files to be parsed. To do this, disable the ALLOW_TEMPLATES define in config.h and distribute Unangband with the .raw files in lib/data. Note that this distribution is now heavily dependent on the endianess and integer size of the machine it is created on, so you should ensure that this is a binary only distribution.

There is some in game calculations used in the lib/edit files as well. For instance, level, rarity and experience reward for monsters is algorithmically determined. To output a new copy of the edit files containing the generated values, enable ALLOW_TEMPLATES_OUTPUT and the edit files will be output to the lib/user directory when the game launches. Note that e.g. level is dependent on power, which can depend on level, so that the depths for monsters you have not changed will also vary in the output file.

(Part two is now up).

Saturday 22 March 2008

It always pays to ask nicely

Kieron Gillen's just written up a short article on the 7 Day Roguelike Competition results for Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

New Team Fortress 2 Classes

I will admit, in my darkest moments, to having played an undue amount of Team Fortress 2 recently. I'm finally starting to understand how to play the Spy, and massively enjoying both the Demoman and Pyro classes - so much so, I go through alternate phases of each. I'll begrudgingly go Engineer or Medic if the team hasn't got the right mix of roles, although Engineers bore me now, and Medics are just score whores. Gravel Pit seems to bring the Soldier out in me. And half the time on Well, I'll go Sniper and rush.

I just can't play a Scout.

The balance of classes in TF2 is meticulous and has come about due to man years of playing and play testing until each class is like a fine wine or liquor in the right hands

Since there's nothing like a game design challenge, I'd like you come up with some new classes to mess with the game. Valve, are you listening? If you don't want to spoil yourself reading my ideas, stop now and jump to the comments section of this post where you can put in your contributions

My suggestions are based on a number of observations. Firstly, there are no Hispanic, Asian or Middle Eastern characters in the game. Tread carefully here - we don't want to play to stereotypes. I'm going to borrow ideas liberally from other class based games. In particular, if you haven't played the Half-Life 2 mod Dystopia, you need to - just to check out the weapon selection which seems to have inspired TF2 and Halo 3

The Cowboy

Ethnicity: Mexican
Weapon 1: Self-loading rifle

The self-loading rifle is a low damage, fast firing, long range weapon, that ricochets off the target it hits and does damage to a second enemy as well. This allows you to hit people around corners - do more damage in crowds etc.

Weapon 2: Pair of revolvers

The pair of revolvers are supremely accurate. You only have to tag a target with the first shot, and then you can keep shooting, and the enemy will be hit, even if they move out of line of sight. Left-click to fire left revolver, right-click for right.

Weapon 3: Knuckle dusters

Reason to live: Anti-scout and to an extent anti-sniper/anti-engineer. And it can't hurt to have another newbie class where accuracy isn't a factor

The Ninja

Ethnicity: Japanese

Weapon 1: Shuriken

Short range throwing stars. Enemies get poisoned by the shuriken - as if they are on fire, except water cannot put it out.

Weapon 2: Grappling hook.

If the grappling hook hits an enemy (but not a building), the enemy is pulled towards the Ninja at high speed. If the grappling hook hits a wall or building, the Ninja is pulled towards it at high speed.

Weapon 3: Katana

Special Ability: Smoke bomb.

Right-click to drop a smoke bomb at the Ninja's feet. The smoke bomb fills a corridor or roughly 1/3rd of a capture point with line of sight blocking smoke. Enemies get poisoned moving through the smoke - as if they are on fire, except water cannot put it out. The Ninja becomes temporarily invisible and insubstantial for a few seconds afterwards - as per the spy, but they can move through enemies and enemy buildings as well. The smoke dissipates after about 5-10 seconds.

Special ability: Wall and water run

Ninja's can jump near walls or while in water to run on walls or water for a short space of time.

Reason to live: There are enough crazies in TF2 who go melee only, to justify a melee specific class.


Ethnicity: Old
Weapon 1: Laser

See Dystopia laser. Or Spartan laser. Alternately, see Tesla gun in Dystopia for another crazy scientist like weapon implementation that doesn't replace the sniper rifle.

Weapon 2: Jet pack

The jet pack allows the scientist to fly, up to the a height ceiling allowed in the map. See Natural selection for the specific jet pack implementation - it's fun.

Weapon 3: Cattle prod
Weapon 4: X-ray glasses

These allow the scientist to see through walls, letting them see enemies and buildings nearby. They also see through spy disguises.

Reason to live: With all the crazy 50s science lab locations, the scientist is sorely lacking as a playable character. The scientist is another rush type character. With the Spartan laser, they become an even more annoying individual than scouts, and people will scream l33t hacks. With the Tesla gun implementation, they become an extremely good anti-scout rush character. Note that by having the jet pack as a weapon choice, scouts still can out maneuver scientists.


Ethnicity: Syrian
Weapon 1: Hand cannon

Think scout gun but shorter range, more damage. Or play with the Basilisk in Dystopia, against lights.

Weapon 2: Stun Grenade Launcher

A grenade launcher with stun effects. But it restricts anyone stunned to their melee weapon, for about 3-5 seconds.

Weapon 3: Bible

Reason to live: Because there aren't enough biblical quotes in the game.

Comments welcome.

[Update: Apparently Valve are 'still pursuing' the idea of new Team Fortress 2 classes. So there is hope.]

Thursday 20 March 2008

Results of 'Are you writing a 7DRL this year?'; new poll

Thanks to the 51 of you who voted. The results, as well as the roguelikes themselves are in.

3 (5%)
25 (49%)
11 (21%)
I don't have a spare 168 hours
12 (23%)
I've written one already this year
0 (0%)

I'm going to mix the poll format up just a little. Go to Temple of the Roguelikes ultimate coverage of the 7DRL here. Download and play as many of the completed 7 day roguelikes as you want to. This poll you'll vote to let everyone know which ones you have played. Then next week, you vote on which one(s) is you favourite.

I realise the point of the 7DRL is not a popularity contest. But let's pretend awhile.

Weather in Games

We've just had about 30 minutes of 'dry' lightning here in Coogee , Australia- lighting up broiling clouds in the sky with subtropical heat and cold, twisting wind but not a hint of rain. Surreal.

Which immediately leads me to think of how weather works in games, and what powerful weather related moments I've played through. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. comes immediately to mind with it's day night cycle incorporating storms, lightning and clear skies. The weather in open world games can have a dramatic impact on game play, turning mundane situations into nuanced encounters, driven by chance.

Whereas the scripted weather systems I've played through, such as Half-Life 2, and Metal Gear Solid 3 have served less as game play enhancers and more as an emotional palette: subtly turning the day night cycle into a movement of progression and renewal, colours and seasons. I think scripted weather is partly hindered by the limits of particle systems and pre-built environments. Turning a day from spring to snow immediately increases the amount of man hours required for map building.

Sangband makes an interesting choice, and turns weather into an important play dynamic. As a druid, you can influence the weather to improve the damage of elemental spells. Each element actions in opposition to another: fire vs cold, acid vs water, poison vs wind, so that you strengthen a subset of your spells at the expense of another.

I can't think of a powerful scripted weather situation off the top of my head: I'm sure there are good examples out there. What's been the most memorable weather based situation you've played through?

Wednesday 19 March 2008

Unangband 0.6.2 beta 2 released

One of the wonders of open source development is people come out of the blue and help you out with things you were supposed to have done. One of those was releasing Unangband versions on a regular basis.

This is the first release I've had virtually no involvement with in a long time (other than tidying up some experimental code). Visit the official homepage to download it and for a full change list.

Monday 17 March 2008


John Carmack on procedural content generation:

'No, tessellation has been one of those things up there with procedural content generation where it’s been five generations that we’ve been having people tell us it’s going to be the next big thing and it never does turn out to be the case.'

As a part of a larger article rebutting Intel's plans for ray tracing.

I guess my 5 year plan is out the window then.

Friday 14 March 2008

Busy week for many

As you may have guessed from the lack of posts, it's been a busy week for me. Unfortunately, I'm not secretly working on a 7 day roguelike - the company I'm working for have just done a major software release and I've been busy with support. Fortunately, there are plenty of people working on the 7DRL competition. I point you in the direction of Temple of the Roguelike's 2 part coverage of announced entries.

Friday 7 March 2008

Mysterious Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer released for the DS

I'm going to have to pick this up. You can read about more coverage for this at Verbal Spew, where Jeremy Parish has linked to his review of the game on 1Up as well as links to Game Spite's Game of the Week, this month's Fun Club RPG Selection and John Harris' three part in-depth review in @Play at GameSetWatch.

I've previously mentioned the Mysterious Dungeon series as a part of my six part series on procedural content generation, and as a poll on your favourite commercial roguelikes.

Excel Graphics programming engine

And this has to be seen to be believed. Source code included.

ASCII Dreams Jumps the Shark

I can has resisted the LOLCats meme up until now. But this is impossible to resist. Fnargh!

Make a Game March Madness

Is there something in the air? Because I keep reading about game creation competitions this month.

Firstly, and foremostly from this blog's point of view is the 7 Day Roguelike Challenge. 168 hours to make a roguelike, starting from tomorrow. You can, of course, start a 7 Day Roguelike Challenge at any point, but the annual challenge gives you a chance to share the pain and get a shiny medal for your troubles

Then there's this suggestion of a gaming tribute by Brenda Brathwaite of Applied Game Design. She's asking for games 'designed to honour Gary Gygax in any medium at all'. You've got two weeks from March 5th to submit a game with this criteria. Brenda's holding a game design jam today with 4 other designers, so keep checking her blog for more information.

Finally, and most randomly of all, is the Independent Gaming Source's Video Game Name Generator competition. Open up the Video Game Name Generator, generate a game name and then make a game to match. You've got until Monday, March 24th, Midnight (I'm not sure what time zone) to complete it.

My suggestion: A gaming mashup of one or more gaming competition entries above. Why limit yourself to designing three separate games? Take advantage of network efforts and design your entry with two or all three of the above in mind.

Wednesday 5 March 2008

Gary Gygax's Legacy

By now you've probably seen that Gary Gygax has passed away, aged 69. Everyone from role-players to game designers and critics, fantasy and science fiction writers and technologists have lauded his life, with testimonials about how Dungeons & Dragons has influenced their lives. I am no different.

My father bought the Basic Set for me and my brother when I was 8 and we had many role-playing sessions together, initially with the family, and later with my close school friends. My most favourite experiences were with a university-based role-playing group that I attended when I was fifteen or so in a campaign run by Klaude Thomas of GURPS: Goblins fame.

I went on to amass a large library of role-playing games, particularly focusing on Traveller and Call of Cthulhu, which I bequeathed to a friend when I finally emptied out my storage unit some three years ago. But D&D, particularly the 2nd Edition, has always had a special place in my heart, and the Forgotten Realms home to my most successful campaigns as a Dungeon Master. And the large amount of my game design aspirations and inspirations come from thinking about RPG design.

It's not every day that you get to take part in creating something that has become as profoundly influential to many as chess, Go or poker. Gary Gygax never outgrew his original roots as the co-designer of Dungeons and Dragons, but he never needed to. Thank you.

Monday 3 March 2008

Being diplomatic

Ever since someone pointed out to me that there was a diplomat option in Incursion, I've wondered how playing as a diplomat in a roguelike works. I've never found out, because I don't have time to play the game. But I've just read an article that has at least inspired me to think about it a little more.

The writing in question is this article on non-combat game play by Vince D. Weller, one of the developers of Age of Decadence. It includes a number of amazing stories of some real people who've successfully used diplomacy in RPG-like ways. Vince then goes onto elaborate how you could implement alternate ways of handling encounters, other than using combat.

He makes the mistake of suggesting using dialog trees.

The dialog tree is one of the most boring mechanics that I can think of. It's a regression back to pick-a-path adventure stories. Remember those? You'd make one of several choices, and depending on the whim of the author, you'd either end up making the right choice, or die unexpectedly.

That's my key criticism of dialog trees. There's not enough information in the trees themselves to suggest which option to take. It might be the limited exposure I've had to this game mechanic. I found some of the Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines dialog interesting, particularly when it involved very deep dialog trees with some well written and ambiguous responses (and deliciously damaged female characters).

So maybe dialog trees are just limited by the strength or weakness of the writing involved. But I suspect it's more than that.

Dialog trees are one-dimensional. You don't have the ability to back-track, unless the speaking option is included by the dialog designer (And how many times have we experienced repetitive dialog) - instead, it's just a choice of a few options, usually cut down because of constraints of screen space and sentence complexity. You don't know what the ultimate goal of the conversation is to start with, whereas in combat it's clear - kill the opponents. So you don't know which approach to the conversation is best.

Compare this to the multiple options made available in combat, and the complexities of range and terrain that complicate it. Dialog trees just don't have the same level of sophistication.

So how can we improve the diplomacy mechanic? I suspect turning dialog into a mini-game of some kind is the right way. But every mini-game mechanic I've come up with so far makes me cringe even worse than dialog trees.

Do you have any suggestions? Keep in mind that this is a roguelike design website, so I need something that's entertaining while remaining repeatable and random.

Sunday 2 March 2008

White Noise: Generator

Robson has kindly written a white noise generator, so you can have fun generating as many white noise pictures as you want. It's windows only at the moment, but I'm sure the enterprising amongst you can compile a Linux and/or OS/X equivalent.

This was based on my earlier observation that there's not much white noise on the Internet.

Prototype theory

I accidentally meandered while discussing why 'Games are not art' into a semantic argument about what is art (and by implication what are games). Now, I tend to not like getting in to semantic arguments as they inevitably devolve to either a) a position of we agree to disagree or b) tortuous logical arguments involving set theory. And as far as I am concerned, semantics are a relatively solved problem. And the solution is Prototype Theory.

(I'm just waiting for my former linguistic lecturers to cringe internally and leap to the defense of another theory of semantics).

Prototype theory basically says that you can grade the members of a category so that some members are more central than others. And you can distinguish central from less-central members of a category using real world testing of various kinds.

So a Prototype Theory version of what is art would involve ranking things that are more 'art-like' from things that are less 'art-like'. So paintings would be more 'art-like' than sculptures, which are more 'art-like' than music and so on. And then testing things like reaction time using a number of experiments outlined in the Wikipedia article I linked to above to verify the ranking.

So an argument about whether games are art would probably involve ranking various games as more 'art-like' and less 'art-like'.

Which is what most people intuitively do when talking about games as art. Well Ico is art, maybe Shadow of the Colossus, but not Postal or E.T.: The Extraterrestrial. At which point someone arguing from a logical position would try to argue for Postal or E.T. on exactly the same premises they were using to argue against either of these.

So no amount of reasoned logical argument will resolve the issue, no matter who weighs in or what arguments are used.

I'll leave you with Wittgenstein's famous arguments about what constitutes a game:

Consider for example the proceedings that we call `games'. I mean board games, card games, ball games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common to them all? Don't say, "There must be something common, or they would not be called `games' " - but look and see whether there is anything common to all. For if you look at them you will not see something common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To repeat: don't think, but look! Look for example at board games, with their multifarious relationships. Now pass to card games; here you find many correspondences with the first group, but many common features drop out, and others appear. When we pass next to ball games, much that is common is retained, but much is lost. Are they all `amusing'? Compare chess with noughts and crosses. Or is there always winning and losing, or competition between players? Think of patience. In ball games there is winning and losing; but when a child throws his ball at the wall and catches it again, this feature has disappeared. Look at the parts played by skill and luck; and at the difference between skill in chess and skill in tennis. Think now of games like ring-a-ring-a-roses; here is the element of amusement, but how many other characteristic features have disappeared! And we can go through the many, many other groups of games in the same way; can see how similarities crop up and disappear. And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similarities of detail.

Imperfect machines

I don't often mention artificial intelligence news, even though I've written extensively on the Unangband AI, because there is a great blog AI Game Dev which already covers the state of the art in AI game development. But I've just read a couple of articles which re-iterate in more depth a couple of points I made about the Unangband AI, which I haven't seen mentioned much elsewhere.

Terren Suydam writes about the need for emergent behaviour in AI on Machines Like Us, because of the failure of existing AI techniques.

Soren Johnson has just put up the slides from his GDC seminar Playing to Lose, which discusses how you should make the AI in a single player game lose in an entertaining way, as opposed to try to win.

Both of these talk about forgetting about traditional AI techniques and trying to do something a little different. I find discussion of A* algorithms and goal planners quite dry and not very useful, which is why I tried to give a helicopter view of the Unangband AI as opposed to drilling down into detail. I will at some point write some more on the 4GAI that the Unangband AI is based on, as several people have requested this.

[Edit: Links to Soren Johnson's talk can be found here.

Saturday 1 March 2008

White Noise: Noisier

The earlier article I wrote about letting games live appears to be echoing around the blogsphere (indirectly at least). Both Grand Text Auto and josh g have written articles following up on the original discussion.

(In a completely unrelated note, is it possible to copyright an image of white noise? Because there are very few pictures of it on the Internet. I ended up having to use a Lost in Static screenshot for this post, ironically.)

[Edit: Image replaced with a white noise generated image]

Hey, We Talked About Roguelikes

Craig Perko seems to have taken a slightly lighter-hearted approach to the criticism he encountered during the cross-blog discussion between Project Perko and Ascii Dreams.

He's explained how he's fallen out of love with roguelikes and is going on a homicidal rampage as a result, chomping on brain stems and leaving a trail of skulls sucked dry. I can only imagine he's somewhere between the Roguelike Graveyard and a common-Lisp 1 DRL by now. (Am I the only one who finds it ironic writing a roguelike about zombies in a language that refuses to die?)

As a result, I'm now sleeping on a chair next to the door, cradling a shotgun. Craig, can we just agree to disagree?

Art: An Aside

While reading through the linked articles for my 'Games are not art' article, I came across one of the most profoundly moving pieces of writing I've read in a while. I can only highly recommend 'Pearls Before Breakfast' and ask that you read it too.

Games are not art

There is an ongoing debate, contributed to by far greater luminaries than myself, about whether games are art. I would like to voice the following opinion: games can be art by accident, but games are a lot more than art can ever possibly be. Games can deliver an aesthetic experience, but this is not their strength, and to undervalue games by saying that they can merely be art is to miss what games are good at.

Any discussion of games and art inevitably has to walk around the quagmire of defining what art is. I call it a quagmire, not because of the current state of art and the art world that Jim Preston suggests is contradictory and perhaps even fraudulent in his Gamasutra article the Arty Party, but because any attempt to define art leads to types of circular logic and reasoning that concludes 'art is what you see as art'. In fact, there is considerable disagreement within the art world as to whether any agreement can be made as to what art is, and attempting to define it appears to be a futile exercise. I'll merely point you in the direction of an essay 'What is Art?' by Bart Rosier so that you can at least appreciate some of the complexities involved in thinking about art.

But thinking about art, for my purposes, is not so important as what art is, but as what art does. Art transmits ideas, art engages the viewer, art conveys an aesthetic experience, art is a realised meme. But art is passive, in the sense that art conveys a limited domain of viewer interaction. At best you may be able to view art from a number of different angles, and modern exhibits are likely to have an exhibit which allows the audience to participate or manipulate elements of the exhibit.

Defining games on the other hand appears initially less complex. Games are played, which is their defining characteristic. They involve an interaction between the player and either the game itself, or other players through the game. One of Roger Ebert's chief criticisms on why games cannot be art is the extent of the interaction that games allow: 'I believe art is created by an artist. If you change it, you become the artist.' (Games vs. Art: Ebert vs. Barker).

But even in this simple definition, there are complexities. Should we distinguish between single player and multi-player games? How is the role of the game designer, at one position removed from the act of play, important to the game? Similarly, Ebert's criticism feels wrong some how. Is the role of being a game player the same as being an artist, or is it something else? If it is something else, what can it be?

Games have a couple of distinguishing features from art: they have rules, and they have feedback. The rules distinguish game players from artists to an extent, although not completely, because art seems to thrive under restrictions and adversity, and rules are one such type of restriction. But the feedback mechanism - reward and punishment - is unique to games, not art. You can get addicted to games - and the problems of gambling addiction show how strong such an addictive process can be. You cannot get addicted to a piece of art - despite literature's best attempts to suggest otherwise. (You can get addicted to creating a piece of art, which implies game playing and being an artist are closer related than we think. You can also get addicted to buying or collecting art, but the art is not the behavior itself).

Addiction is gaming's dark side. Many games can be accused of being virtual skinner boxes, and slot machines are the closest physical realisation of this idea (and consequently the most addictive). But the concept of operant conditioning behind skinner boxes relies on the basic human function of associating changes in the environment with actions (responses) made by organism being conditioned. And this is the positive function of gaming. Games allow you to condition your behaviour correctly in a simulated (safe) environment. Examples include improving hand eye coordination in key hole surgery by game playing (Medical News Today). But they include more improving more general problem solving skills which are equally transferable. Not one has accused art of making such improvements - at least, not since 1945.

(You may wish to read my follow-up piece on how to define 'What is Art')

Angband Eee

Pav, the maintainer of the Angband website has pointed out Asus has been working on extending their brand a little with the Asus Eee:

I recently purchased one of these toy-subnotebooks. I believe Angband was considered when this machine was designed, because 80x25 in default font just fits on the display. Coincidence? I think not! :cool:

Someone tell Asus...