Cathode Tan - Games, Media and Geek Stuff
logo design by man bytes blog

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Cylon Jack-O-Lantern

For halloween this year, we made Cylon Jack-o-lanterns in both large and small versions. The design consists of two parts, a pumpkin-carving part and an electronics part. The big idea, of course, is to make the Cylon's red eye scan back and forth. "
-- HOW TO - Make A Cylon Jack-O-Lantern

Original photo and HOWTO via Windell H. Oskay and can be found at

tagged: ,

Friday, October 20, 2006

Lost: Gaia Theory

Honestly, I'm waning on the whole "try and figure out Lost" thing. Part of me is now suspicious that the producers are doing their best to string viewers along. In short, the show is beginning to feel a bit like a tease and less like a puzzle.

For one thing, I'm not buying the "scientific principles" as a method of explaining much of anything on the island. They've tossed too much hocum pocum into the mix for me to try and look up how gravity or electromagnetism actually works and apply it to the show. Once you start putting "science" with "not necessarily proven or accepted as" in front of the concepts, the task starts to feel a little more realistic.

Which got me thinking - Locke keeps referring to the island as a living thing. Not just as a character in the show, like say New York in a Woody Allen film - but as a mover and player. In fact, the mover and player. The thing that brought them all there and gives him purpose and does everything. The Island is the Iago of Lost. It's virtually responsible for all the plot to be pushed along.

In the 1960's, Lovelock offered up his Gaia theory. This hypothesized that the Earth is like a living organism. The sum of its biomass is essentially an entity. How sentient and/or capable this being is depends on how radical one wants to apply the theory.

Let's apply it radically. The Earth is an intelligent and powerful entity on its own. You are a gnat on its backside. OK? Let's go.

The Island
The Island is the Earth's heart. It's a powerful nexus of biomass. The Earth protects this area when it sees fit through subtle changes of the weather. Boats in its path will narrowly miss it. Plane will narrowly fly past, or not see it due to cloud cover, etc. When it feels the need to - it drags people here. That's how a plane from Nigeria could drop here - freakish storm literally sucks it from one spot to another. This Oz without the ... well, Oz.

Think of The Island as Gaia's secret HQ. So from here on out, we'll just refer to The Island.

Four toed people, Black Rock, Magnus Hanso.
The Island has always had protectors. The original four-toed natives for one. When Magnus crashes his boat into the Island (or rather, the Island crashes his boat into itself) ... he becomes another. And by extension, so does Hanso and DHARMA.

Hanso and DHARMA
DHARMA's stated purpose is to extend the life of the planet - not surprising if we thing of Magnus as someone who has been employed by The Island. Along comes Valenzetti and his equation which predicts the (more or less) precise time for the end of the world ... and from that we get the numbers. So the numbers, the end of the world, DHARMA and the Island form more or less a straight line here.

The Numbers
From The Lost Experience - we know that the numbers are the output of the equation. They have to be adjusted to keep the planet moving. So let's think of the numbers as a cardiogram of the planet's health. This cardiogram is going to be present everywhere, because the planet's heartbeat is present everywhere. So these numbers crop up more than they randomly should because The Island is more present than it randomly would be? Why?

Coincidence and Fate
The Island works in mysterious ways. It doesn't always go tossing a tidal wave or knock a plane out of the sky to get things done. Sometimes it's subtle. Wings of the butterfly and all that. "Fate" and "coincidence" is really just The Island Getting Things Done. What caused the tear in Kelvin's suit that lead to Desmond refinding his boat and killing Kelvin and missing the countdown and crashing the plane? The Island.

Healing Powers
The Island is one big life force engine - but remember its also thinking. It can decide who to heal and who not to heal.

Telepathy, possession and precognition
Consider these all powers The Island possesses. It can get in your head, mess around, communicate thoughts. It can somewhat see the future (and tell people about it) because its always got the "big picture" of what's going on. Think of it like playing chess where you can only see one square, but The Island always gets the whole board.

The Current Conflict
Stuff ain't going right for planet Earth. So it's bringing the war to the home front. The Others and the Losties might be a grand recruitment drive to try and get the forces in line to keep the globe spinning. The Others feel justified in their actions because they're saving planet - but they're still the good guys. They can organize lists and information because they've got the best intel on the planet - The Planet.

Wacky? Oh hell yeah it's wacky. But it also feels to me to be in line with where the show's narrative is going. Rose's stories pretty much back up most of it and Locke handles a decent part of the rest ... so its not nearly as much conjecture as it might seem. It's also congruent with certain other theories, like Mu or Lemuria or whatnot.

I'm not a big fan of this notion, don't ge me wrong. But I'm thinking if we apply the basic principle of The Earth as a powerful, living being - it merges the hocum pocum and science at (overly) convenient crossroads.

tagged: ,

Threewave On Sponsored Content

Somehow, this is the Ouroboros of gaming. Threewave, makers of Threewave CTF, discussing in-game ads. It's an interesting read and discusses they whys (funding) and the do nots (spyware). Remember that Threewave predates Counter-Strike by like an Internet Age in terms of having an impact on gaming (one could argue that without TCTF, there might not be CS - which is probably overkill but at least debateable). Now Threewave is moving to the Source engine and increasing their development budget with ingame ads.

The head swims to take it all in...

tagged: ,

Snow Cats

This is what the web is for, after all. X Snow Cats is that game, which was found on a random Japanese blog. It pits your 2D moggy against seven other felines, racing through a snowy course with the aim of finishing first, while pulling off as many somersaults as possible along the way.

It's not pure silliness though. There seem to be some pretty spot-on physics behind the deceptively simple graphics. Of course, I don't have an enormous grasp of what happens when a cat rides a tea-tray at speed in the real world, but the way they bounce around in this game certainly feels right - and presents quite a challenge to control.
-- Brandish (via Tech Digest)

tagged: ,

Halo Movie On Hold

According to Jackson's agent at International Creative Management, Ken Kamins, "What happened was this: Universal, on behalf of both studios, asked for a meeting with the filmmakers just prior to the due date of a significant payment. Basically, they said that in order to move forward with the film, the filmmakers had to significantly reduce their deals. They waited until the last minute to have this conversation. Peter and Fran, after speaking with their producing partners and with Microsoft and Bungee [sic] (the studio that designed the original game), respectfully declined."
-- Game over for Halo movie (Joystiq)

A shame since many a gamer was hoping this would finally be the game movie that didn't suck. The factors don't look good here - a newb director and Microsoft apparently trying to pocket as much cash as possible. I kinda doubt Jackson himself would want to take the reins on this one unless someone at Bungie convinces him the story merits Lord of the Rings style attention (and as much of a fan of the Halo-Marathon backstory I am ... I'm not sure it is).

The formula here would seem to be to lower that $200 million dollar mark somewhat and find a director with less name power but some experience. It's early and I can't think of anyone right now, though.

tagged: ,

Huffington Post On Bully

Author and mommy Liz Perle takes a crack at Rockstar's Bully:

As for the actual game, I've seen only what the rest of the world has- trailers. Here's a sampling of comments and responses to the trailer on YouTube where, as of this writing, it had been viewed 41,796 times (only about a hundred of those were from my 13 year old son, I promise). "Dude," says one commenter, "as long as I can get a girl pregnant in this game, I don't care how dated the engine is (presumably a reference to the fact the game is coming out on Playstation 2, not 3 to ensure the broadest possible holiday distribution). Or this contribution, "I wonder if there are unlockables where you can get guns, c4s, poison gas?" To be fair, there were also plenty of innocuous comments ("this game looks aaaaawwwsum, dude") which, while not particularly insightful or illuminating, are probably most representative of those who can't wait to fork over (or have their parents pony up) the $39.95 each game costs.

So what's my beef then? Simple: I think it's sad that I am looking at this game - both as a mother and a professional information purveyor -- with a modicum of relief because it appears not to be as ultra-violent (blood splattering and women being raped and beaten) as other games my kid and his friends want to play. What did Robin Williams say the other day? Something along the lines of 'you know you're bad when you start violating your standards more quickly than you can lower them.' I know my son wants this game for his birthday. Robbed of my usual excuses - no blood or guns allowed - I now have the more nuanced task of discussing role models and pointing out research that shows that the more time spent with aggressive video games, the more inured kids become to aggression. This makes me the boring mom, the killjoy mom. But so be it. Until my kids are old enough to vote me off the island, I still get to decide what's right for them. But like other parents, I must do my homework about video game content, I will read reviews, look at the game, decide with my husband what's right. Then, even though it's not popular, I happily reserve the right to say, "No."
-- Virtual Bully: A Finer Line for Videogames

For the record, Bully is rated T - which means Liz's little one has the clearance from the ESRB. She's acknowledging that she hasn't played it - and let's face it ... most parents don't exactly get the chance to play games before their kids take it home. Still, I don't think a random sampling of YouTube commenters is at all useful for gauging a game's content. In fact, I'd call it downright unfair.

But then again - where is she to go? It's not like Best Buy will offer her to boot up the game and give it a spin. 99% of gamer reviews are geared towards thirteen year olds (and a few may actually be written by them). If she brings up her concerns in most web forums, she's likely to get flamed for being "anti-video game" (as she risks on that post).

What's the solution here? I point her to - one of the few sites with a perspective fit for parents. Still, this seems to illustrate the gap of resources parents really have for making decisions like this one. The ESRB is helpful, sure, but when parents want to dig deeper - where else can they go?

That's the problem game publishers and the ESRB should be trying to solve. And perhaps it could be if lunatics like BatJack would stop throwing frivolous lawsuits and idiotic sound bites at them. Once again, BatJack is only hurting parents by distracting resources from what should be the real dialogue - parents and game publishers communicating so that parents know what they're getting from those boxes on the shelf.

tagged: ,

Thursday, October 19, 2006

LEGO Stargate

"This rotating Stargate is 19 inches tall with light-up chevrons. An RCX drives a treadmill, which spins the inner ring randomly for x seconds, then reverses direction, seven times. Won best medium space award and best brick mod at BrickFest 2005."
-- Stargate: LEGO(MAKE)

tagged: ,

Chris Crawford Is On Notice

All credit to Mile Zero since I didn't catch the show. Colbert is really stocking up the geek cred.

OK, so this is a generated image via that URL at the bottom from Mile Zero (I swear almost checked that out). Keeping it up though, because it's funny.

tagged: ,

XNA Studio Express Info

Winkyboy sent along this page from Microsoft which outlines the latest beta of XNA Studio Express. Amongst the tidbits include the lack of "retail" game development as well as support for the content pipeline. Towards the bottom they point you to the "X" edition of the Torque game platform, which I can mostly recommend is worthy trying to giving a go.

Apparently Game Informer gave a full page spread on this and included the following links as resources:

It really feels like XNA Studio Express is still finding its stride, but I still think its great that Microsoft is putting this out there. I'm pretty content with Mac development right now, but there's a decent chance it won't pan out as I like. Hopefully while I'm goofing around with iTunes more people can put this concept to the test.

Thanks again to Dan for sending this along.

tagged: ,

Did You Say Zune To Me, Sir?

Microsoft’s forthcoming digital music player, dubbed Zune, may make some Hebrew speakers gasp. The name for the device — which will take on the Apple iPod when released later this year — sounds like a vulgarity, specifically the F word, in Hebrew.
-- Bill Gates tells Hebrew speakers to *#@! off and buy an iPod(Digital World Tokyo)

Nice. Still, don't companies rebrand products worldwide for just this kind of reason?

tagged: ,

Lost: Deja Vu Too

Why was last night's episode called "further instructions"? Because Locke can't do anything without the island telling him? Including apparently ... talk?

There seems a conflict with Locke's persona here. In one hand, he seems to be a leader constantly trying to struggle out of the herd. He's always under someone's shadow or thumb. Including on the pot farm, he seems to under the grip of the group more than he is able to charge on his own. This is how I was reading the "farmer" versus the "hunter" bit.

But he's still under the thumb of the island. Looks to stay that way. And speaking of the island having thumbs - what's up with Desmond? He survives an implosion with little more than a wardrobe malfunction. An implosion being that thing where everything collapses around you ... actually making it significantly more difficult to escape than say ... an explosion.

And not only is he OK ... he can tell the future? I hope the producers aren't going with some kind of "starchild" approach here where Desmond's actually dead and this is just some kind of Island Energy Being or some whatnot.

Overall, I'm with Hurley. I've got a bad sense of deja vu here. I keep getting more questions to toss onto the pile and slight little in the way of answers. This season we've learned the existence of Otherville (no big deal) and that they get baseball scores (also, no big deal). The Lost Experience has given us far more pertinent answers. By this time in Season Two, we knew more about DHARMA, the hatch and the experience than we would find out for the rest of season two.

Next week looks like more Other antics with Sawyer and I'm guessing Jack in the limelight. So I'm not expecting much new revelation there. Hopefully the mid-season cliffhanger will actually bother to explain something.

I'm starting to really feel for people I know who have stopped watching the show, however. A co-worker who has been on the edge of not watching commented this morning that, "last night was just a show ... take it or leave it."

tagged: ,

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Do Counter-Strike: Source Hitboxes Suck This Bad?

Seriously? I knew they were always of suspect "back in the day" if you will. There were other well known bugs that have existed in the CS like phantom bullets (some players would fire off a few rounds when the game started because of bug where the first couple bullets would play effects but not actually register any hits) and bizarre hitbox/accuracy predictions. Distinctly this not the first such video I've seen about the game - but it does seem pretty severe.

Is this confirmed or bogus? Or do people just not care because they spray and pray so much these days?

tagged: ,

Watching the Real World in the Virtual

From Kisa Naumova's photostream.

tagged: ,

Flickr Started As A Game?

How is it that I did not know this:

The Birth of Flickr

The original idea: a multiplayer game

Butterfield and Fake were originally trying to create a Web-based, massively multiplayer game. "It was different from most other Web games," says Butterfield. "It wasn't postapocalyptic sci-fi, and it wasn't men in tights fighting dragons."

The dream

While sweating out a nasty bout of food poisoning during a 2003 conference in New York (ah, the glamorous world of new media), Butterfield had an epiphany: "We had this game where people were sharing things. What if we added the ability to share photographs?"

Flickr's first version: game on

The original Flickr had many remnants of the game technology. You could share photos only with other people live on the site. And a ranking of your friends decided who got to see your pictures. "Your mom should be your best friend," says Fake, "but you don't necessarily want to share all your photos with her."
-- Point, Click, Design (

tagged: ,

Lost: Polar Bears and Podcasts

Podcast Revelations
In the latest podcast (stop reading now if you avoid such things as spoilers), the producers confess that Ben is probably older than DHARMA itself and has been on the island all his life. They suggest that this throws the general thinking about the Others into a bit of a curve. Are they ex-Dharmites or possibly the remnants of the natives the Dharmites experimented on? If they're the latter - why would DI still be making supply drops (especially since funding is supposedly cut now) if the inmates are running the island?

Why would anyone be still on the island running experiments?

Also, I didn't even realize that I called the numbers being an output of Valenzetti's back in May. Go me. One prediction right out of like 100.

Telepathy, Empathy, Whateverthy
I think evidence is mounting that Others are capable of some kind of mental hocum pocum. Firstly, they can generate lists of names in record time. Secondly, they always seem to be able to ascertain precisely what is on someone's mind. Ben seemed to be constantly aware of what everyone was thinking when he was a hostage. And again with Kate during breakfast. And Juliet had an incredible amount of information on Jack when she was working him over.

The Scooby Doo alternative is that they are just highly trained interrogators ... with access to an amazing amount of intel.

But the added weight which leans me to the metaphysical is that the island seems to constantly throw this at the Losties. Their past and their little worried thoughts aren't just flashbacks - they're boars and horses and people oh my.

Polar Bears and other tidbits
Lost still has a remarkable number of loose threads. Not just big stuff like the Others and numbers. The cable Sayid found. The transmitter we never saw. The corpses in the caves and their odd black and white rocks. The song on the radio that shouldn't be. Polar bears running loose for some reason. The cigarrete in Pearl. Planes which shouldn't be able to make their way to the island crashing on the island. Even the voices and the sickness seem to be more background noise than a concern.

We're about half way through the "first half" of the season (remember this year they're splitting the show into two smaller seasons with a mid season replacement and avoiding reruns) ... and I think they need to start knocking some of this stuff down. Hopefully they're intertwined. Adam and Eve we're assuming will be explained with the "native" explanation. The cable, transmitter and cigarrete might be explained with a fuller view of how the island works (underground tunnels, etc.). The song on the radio and crashing of planes probably connected to whatever "veils" the island.

Old Smokey and the bears, I'm still guessing, are connected. I'm thinking tonight we might learn more.

tagged: ,

TV Watch: Cheerleaders and Cameras

The show is finally getting a pace which feels at least like a jog instead of a stagger. Still, the plot seems to suffer from some pretty convenient mechanics. Creepy Geeky Villain always seems to know where to be and always seems to be able to get there in a timely fasion and always can sneak in and now he can bring his buddy along as well. He's so omnipresent in the show that it starts to get a little hard to swallow. Just like how Heroin Painter Dude somehow published a comic in the last few weeks when he's been strung out on drugs and ... well ... painting (and not many comics are painted by one guy).

And since when is having Multiple Personality Disorder a superpower? Whore Webcam Babe doesn't seem any more capable than your average psychopath - especially compared to Hiro ... who is not only by far my favorite part of the show but also the only character I care enough about to remember his name.

Studio 60
Love it. Watch it. Need I say more? OK fine - I'm a bit afraid they're pulling out the whole Harriet romance angle too quickly. Sports Night survived on innuendo and undertone for almost a season before letting the romances get tragic. Still, it's a great show.

Veronica Mars
I'm still enjoying the show, but last night's episode was oddly disjointed. V's motive for getting into the "case" seemed missing, once again she seemed to almost stumble onto the solution and her apologizing to Logan felt almost like a twist ending. Gee, who could be surprised at not trusting Logan "Bumfight" Echolls? I mean, Logan is one of my favorite characters because he's fairly complex - but we haven't really seen much from him lately that spells trustworthy in terms of a relationship.

V's still my girl - but I'm afraid the show is losing it's noir. I don't think Season One Veronica would have protrayed Weevil's beatdown of a boyfriend in a brief piece of dialogue. But hey, at least he's back.

tagged: ,

Handling Returns

Grand Poobah Dean Takahashi asks how Sony and Nintendo should handle returns with their upcoming consumer blitzkreig. Personally I think Microsoft can be faulted for trying to sweep their production problems under the rug - but at least consistently I've heard that their consumer response was good ... and with their recent offer to fix 360's for free that's hard to argue.

Obviously production problems can be avoided - but if it happens be gracious. Own up and offer the replacement the customer deserves. Better to make a good first impression this holiday season than hedge the profit margin by sticking people with lemons.

tagged: ,

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Apple Trademarks iPhone

Apple has officially filed for the 'iPhone' trademark and analysts predict that the company will launch two hybrid iPod/mobile phone models, perhaps as soon as Macworld Expo, held in January 2007.

A report on Forbes cites new research from Prudential Equity analyst Jesse Tortora. The analyst claims the company is preparing to launch two such devices, basing his information on "sources" and "recent checks".

He predicts both a smart phone and a slim music phone, the report explains. One of these models will include wireless (WiFi) connectivity and a keyboard for messaging.
-- Apple Files "iPhone" Trademark

Apple's first foray into phones was a bit of a letdown. I will say that a truly decent iPhone - especially with WiFi - might be a good way to finally get me into the iPod family, although I'm pretty happy with my Nokia.

tagged: ,

Family Guy Released

Developed by High Voltage Software, the Family Guy video game involves a unique combination of arcade-like action, platforming, combat, and puzzle-solving as gamers play through three stories that intersect in typical Family Guy fashion. As lovable oaf and father Peter Griffin, players fight to stop Mr. Belvedere from taking over the world. As Stewie, Peter’s diabolical young son, players match their wits against his arch-nemesis and half-brother Bertram as they also vie to take over the world. Lastly, players slip on a collar and drink a martini as Brian Griffin, the family dog, and attempt to escape prison to prove his innocence in a puppy paternity case gone awry.
-- 2K Announces Family Guy Video Game Now Available

Damn, that sounds awful. Combat and platforming? In Family Guy? Simpsons Hit & Run set the bar for me when it comes to video game cartoon licensing ... I'm somehow not in high hopes for this one.

tagged: ,

GameTap Goes HBO

On Oct. 17, GameTap will launch two new exclusive games that illustrate the company's current, cable-inspired strategy. Its first episodic title—which bears a bluntly TV-like title—is Sam & Max: Season 1. The game features the adventures of a dog-and-bunny detective team, based on existing comic-book characters. Its first installment, Culture Shock, will debut exclusively on GameTap, and the second episode is scheduled for December (although there's no exact date confirmed). On the same day, GameTap unveils the relaunch of Uru Live, a once-popular online massively multiplayer online (MMO) game that's part of the Myst franchise.

Also on Oct. 17, the company is expected to officially announce its new GameTap Originals label, which will feature games created by GameTap in conjunction with independent game developers, designers, and publishers. Think of HBO Originals—from fellow Time Warner (TWX) affiliate Home Box Office—such as the critically acclaimed, Emmy-winning hits The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, shows that established HBO as, basically, a studio or production company, and you get the picture.

"Before, we concentrated on the greatest hits of video games—which wasn't too different from a lot of cable-TV stations," says Stuart Snyder, GameTap's general manager. Indeed, GameTap's early identity was built around its online library of classics such as PacMan (the title list of previously released games is now up to 700). That's not too different from HBO's first incarnation as a channel showing only previously released movies.
-- What's On GameTap? (BusinessWeek)

I'm still waiting for on-demand games to really "pop". Steam just annoys me and iTunes only loves the iPod it seems. I haven't tried GameTap yet - the PC is still sitting lonesome and unplugged. worked for me for a while, but then their library seemed to dry up somewhat.

Is there a day coming, though, when we'll play games in way similar to watching TV? We've got episodic content and digital delivery in the pipeline. Will there be a point where gamers will get together on a Tuesday night to play the next exciting release of a game's storyline?

tagged: ,

Monday, October 16, 2006

BioWare on Mass Effect

In this area as well, we’ve gone back to the original reasons why players like this feature.  What kind of character do you want to be?  What’s amazing about your character when he or she is in battle on some hostile alien world, or during tough personal negotiations with the most powerful officials in the galaxy?  These are the things we wanted to let players have fun with, but without having to deal with the complicated stats and exceptions that you find in rules systems that were originally meant for other media (like pen-and-paper roleplaying). 
-- GamerSquad''s exclusive Mass Effect Q&A / hold an exclusive Q&A session with Corey Hudson, project director of Mass Effect at developer BioWare

This is a neat interview, but I bring this up mostly to point out that I think it's a missing factor for interactive storytelling in general - customization. Customization is a brilliant way to bring the player-reader into the process and make them feel in control. Not just text based games, mind you, I think even formats like the one Shenmue took could learn from this as well.

tagged: ,

Bedroom Programming

BBC has a quick overview of the modern bedroom game developer - a term that I'm completely for because it makes it sound so sexy when in reality you just make your significant other wonder when you'll do something productive. It's honestly not a great article because it splits it's time quoting Peter Molyneux as an example of what bedroom programming can do - while acknowledging that those days are over - and then talking to some length about XNA Studio (but nothing that would be new to a Cathode reader).

My goal (for the record) isn't to make the next Populous or Tetris so much as it is to try different things and hopefully get something that might add to the dialogue of games in general. Same goal as when I was modding - just that now as a "bedroom programmer" I might have an excuse not to have highly detail models (since oddly modders don't get that excuse).

To that goal, this weekend I got Rectango hooked up pretty proper to the spectrum data iTunes provides for every song and put in some basic effects which qualifies it as a fairly simple visualizer. I was having some doubts about the minigame design for this - but I think I've decided to push ahead with it for now. If one game turns out wildly stronger than the others, it might become "the" game.

tagged: ,

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Doc Dobb's Chris Crawford Interview

Dr. Dobb's Portal had a sitdown with Chris Crawford and chatted Storytron with him (via /.). Oddly, even though interactive fiction is one of my follies causes - I honestly don't follow Chris much and nor do I really side with either camp that seems to be for or against his standing in the gamedev circles.

This is partially because I keep drifting away from the concept of a storyworld as the saving grace of interactive literature (or more generically storytelling). But that's not to say that I don't find the idea intriguing and so generally wish well on those going after it - it's just not my cup of tea.

I do think the interviewer, Michael Swaine, gives Crawford a few passes where deeper questions would have been better ... for instance:

DDJ: SWAT is an acronym for...

CC: "Storyworld Authoring Tool." There are three programs. A storybuilder uses SWAT to create a storyworld. The second technology is the [Storytron] Engine, the third technology is Storyteller, which is the consumer program. Both Storyteller and SWAT access the Engine, Storyteller to play it, and SWAT to run Rehearsal, our testing feature.

DDJ: And Diekto?

CC: Diekto is the language.
-- Dr. Dobb's | Interactive Storytelling | September 6, 2006

Now ... one might think that would merit some follow up discussion. Something more than just "it's a language". Like, why would a storyworld need it's own language? How is it different from English ... and so on. Straying away from a natural language parser is one of the more controversial aspects of Storytron and while the interview doesn't need to critique it - it should at least be brought into the conversation ... but the interview never goes there.

Diekto is a "mini language", according to Crawford, which seems designed to state precisely what needs to be illustrated to an NPC. Now, here is Crawford in his own words (or at least his website's):

Deikto may not be the most inspiring language to write sonnets in, but the singular beauty of interactive storytelling is not in its representation - it is in the richness, depth, variety and drama of the interactions it allows.
-- STORYTRON - Interactive Storytelling

Distinctly this is where a construct like Storytron doesn't work for me. I'm not denying the complexity of natural language parser (that's why I removed it completely in Randolph Carter) ... but you can't tell another artist what's beautiful. This is the conflict I'm seeing with Storytron. Repeatedly, it's presumed to be for creating interactive works of art. That same page notes, "there are techniques by which a conversation can be "faked" using a library of prefab sentences, but these are too narrow and cumbersome for artistic purposes".

But enforcing a "mini language" isn't?

This fine line between technical complexity and artistic license is evident again when the interviewer starts talking about how Storytron is made for use by the everyman and while describing that it's not programmatic in nature and resistant to crashing, Crawford goes down this path:

CC: A great many calculations can be skipped over without undue harm. It makes the system more boring in that fewer things can happen, but it guarantees that the system doesn't crash. Oh, another major issue is data typing. The real innovation is a data type we came up with that we call a bipolar number, or B-number. Bipolar numbers are numbers that range from -1 to +1, and for the variable they describe, 0 represents average, +1 the highest conceivable value, and -1 the lowest value. The advantage of this is that it eliminates all scaling issues. When I hit upon this, it took a long time sorting out how to make it work, and it is weird. But it's especially advantageous for clearly subjective quantities like how faithless or honest someone is. That's another thing: Every variable is defined with two words representing the lower extreme and the upper extreme. People get confused thinking about zero honesty.

DDJ: Of course ordinary arithmetic doesn't work with B-numbers.

CC: We have [developed] bounded arithmetic. Mathematically I can prove [the bounded B-number operators] are analogous to their linear counterparts.
-- Dr. Dobb's | Interactive Storytelling | September 6, 2006

For one thing, and I don't want to armchair code anything or whatnot, but Crawford's "bipolar number" just seems like a way of describing a signed integer with a range from -1 to 1. Be that as it may - we're now talking pretty technical stuff here and it's clearly at the core of what goes in within a Storytron storyworld. I'm not sure how this "eliminates scaling issues" so much as "we've defined you scaling issues for you" and hopefully the description of it won't put you to sleep while trying to be artistic.

And it ends on the note that I've harped on before ... it's a singular issue I have with certain storyworld concepts:

CC: Oh yes. It'll be very useful for corporate training, military training, educational stuff. Basically, it's a social interaction simulator. In fact [it might be] better to think of it as a simulator, because the stories it generates are very different from conventional stories. They don't have plots.

DDJ: No plots?

CC: Because of the interactivity. What happens is that the player explores a dramatic universe. A storyworld.
-- Dr. Dobb's | Interactive Storytelling | September 6, 2006

And again - the interviewer simply lets this pass along. I mean, it's a plotless dramatic universe where you speak in a mini language and your emotions are defined by bipolar numbers.

How could this not be art?

Don't get me wrong - I would love for Crawford to succeed at his goals. I think they are very, very worthy goals. I just haven't seen the conversation take place which makes think that this will be an artistic solution. Course, I don't really think you can "solve" art for artists. I think it's a mistake to assume that artists either aren't or can't be technical people. Take Piet Hein as an example ... a contempory of John Nash's who both wrote poety and designed games.

tagged: ,