Friday May 14, 2021 in Portland, OR where right now the weather is a very pleasant 72 and sunny, as Americans say.
A short one today, so let’s get on with it.
I started reading Andy Weir’s latest novel, Project Hail Mary7, which if you’re the kind of person who liked his debut novel The Martian6, notable I guess for being a first-person scientist-centered page-turner that was originally serialized and self-published, and then for very quickly being turned into a film with Matt Damon playing an enthusiastic scientist, and Sean Bean being a rebellious British flight director who’s standing up for the crew of the Hermes, well, if you liked that, you’ll probably like Hail Mary. Because it is a first-person scientist doing science things. I’m not going to tell you any more than that: if you think you’ll like that, go read it, because anything else might be a spoiler.
Anyway. The novels have a few attributes in common. They’re mainly centered around a single character, they involve a set of escalating problems that require figuring out and there’s a narrative arc. There are also a few scene changes – but not too many, because they’re set in restricted/constrained environments. In the latter (I can’t remember enough about The Martian), there are flashbacks, too. Oh, and the character is at pretty much constant risk of death.
Which… sound a bit like point-and-click adventure games? Or even text adventure games, to be honest. What I mean to say is that the premises and narrative in these novels easily fits into a subset of the text/point-and-click genre of videogame.
The problem these days is that point-and-click adventure games aren’t really a thing anymore (although, they kind of are?) after their boom in the 90s. If you want to really get into the history of adventure games, The Digital Antiquarian has a great set of blog posts5.
You could make a really bad adventure game out of these games. The bad kind are those that just aren’t fun: obscure puzzles, ones that require you to have picked up one critical inventory item at the beginning of the game (yes, I’m looking at you, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), or ones where you just die a lot. The first-person narrative and self-deprecating, wry interior monologue of Weir’s novel lend themselves to at least the 90s style of adventure games. Also, to be honest, the genre was male-dominated, and Weir’s characters would fit right in.
Caught my attention because: Adaptations and genre similarities, taking a linear text and thinking about whether/how it would work in an interactive context, licensed properties are always an easier bet than creating new IP, remembering that Weir self-published The Martian online and serialized.
Cory Doctorow wrote a piece, The Memex Method that’s difficult to quote because I wouldn’t know where to start. It’s mainly about the side-effect of blogging in public for more than 20 years, and he makes a comparison of public blogging to private commonplace books.
Caught my attention because: I’ve been blogging–writing in public–for over 20 years now, having started around 1998, I think. Just thinking about the age of software here: Blogger3 is 21 years old, Movable Type2 will be 20 years old in October, before those self-publishing applications and services, keeping a blog meant writing the HTML by hand and FTPing it or (as people still do), rolling your own content management system. But just the thought of writing in public for 20+ years: it’s how I do a lot of my thinking. It’s been a lot of words. There’s been a lot of change, from there being a definable, countable community of people who identified as “bloggers” (for me, still distinct from LJers1), to, well, anyone who wants to publish their own website.
This paper, Hand-selective visual regions represent how to grasp 3D tools: brain decoding during real actions 4 (via Twitter), ran an experiment to find out how our brain treats tools to go further than the regular (I paraphrase) “when you drive a car, you feel like your body extends to the car, which is why you flinch when a car gets near your car”. This experiment used realtime fMRI to look at what happens in brains when subjects grasped 3D tools instead of the prior research which was just based on looking at pictures of tools.
Caught my attention because: Your brain deals with the tool you use through it being represented by the part of your brain that represents your hand. So, I think, the implication is that (for certain well-known tools in the right orientation) tools-become-your-hands (“our results show that typicality representations for tool grasping are automatically evoked in visual regions specialised for representing the human hand, the brain’s primary tool for interacting with the world”).
If we’re talking about “old technology”, which isn’t a particularly useful label, and one that requires a lot more context, then Blogger (21 years) and Google Docs (15 years) both qualify. Good (provocative?) comparisons, maybe, in conversations where the word legacy comes up. Would these be legacy? What makes something legacy?
Caught my attention because: Game/product design documents are always interesting: what were they trying to do? What were the constraints? What were the assumptions? How did what they did turn out in the end? If you’re interested in game design, or if you think you could learn from game design (and if you’re reading this, I think it’s likely you could?) then I highly recommend Jesse Schell’s Art of Game Design. A
Lastly, some personal news as they call it:
I’ll be joining Afua Bruce (my former Code for America Summit co-chair and former Executive Director of the White House National Science and Technology Council), Mikey Dickerson (founding Administrator of the U.S. Digital Service) and Cyd Harrell (former Chief of Staff at 18F) in teaching a new continuing education course, Digital Fundamentals for Public Impact, from the Beeck Center / McCourt School of Public Policy. The course will run from July 9th to August 1st on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and I’m honoured and excited to take part.
The course is organized by the as-ever brilliant Emily Tavoulareas.
How are you doing?
Hand-selective visual regions represent how to grasp 3D tools: brain decoding during real actions, Ethan Knights, Courtney Mansfield, Diana Tonin, Janak Saada, Fraser W. Smith and Stéphanie Rossit Journal of Neuroscience 10 May 2021, JN-RM-0083-21; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0083-21.2021 ↩
For example, The Unmaking and Remaking of Sierra On-Line, Loom (or, how Brian Moriarty Proved That Less is Sometimes More), about one of the most perfect games ever), and all the posts tagged with Lucasarts. ↩