MacBook Pro Cancels Benchmark: Interrupted by Flaming Hot Magma

Posted in Art, Buckeye, Digital Innovation, Epiphenomena, Eschatology, Fiction, Games on October 7th, 2010 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

Dammit, I just lost a piece of my life on MS Paint Adventures…  And for this?

Of course, I’m still not sure, but I think this method of storyteller as parser, whether community-oriented or feigned, is somewhere near Sword and Sworcery’s faux authentick.

Ah the unscrupulous mule! It understands war.

Posted in Art, Epiphenomena, Eschatology, Games on September 20th, 2010 by admin – Comments Off

Millions of books lining the shelves at Borders and stacking up in Googlespace and literature moves on…

One thing to make clear is that I try to make everything an interpretation of the game. If I went around inventing stuff it wouldn’t be fun anymore, because you wouldn’t know what I’m making up and what is the game being crazy. Plus, Dwarf Fortress is such an excellent story generator that it’s always more entertaining to write around what it gives me. It’s a fun creative limitation, and it’s the entire point of this LP, so I don’t take a lot of liberty with physical actions. If Dett has an amusing medical accident, I want the reader to know it actually happened. The only time I broke this rule was the cat counting joke in the first update and that happened because I was still working out the creative boundaries of the story (Exi’s cat did die, though). I do take liberty with social interactions because the extent of what you witness in the game is dwarves talking to each other in the dining hall, and I don’t see the harm in writing amusing conversations and creating these elaborate social dynamics between all the dwarves. That’s part of storytelling so it wouldn’t be the same without it, and really it’s still just interpretation there because all I’m doing is explaining what the dwarves say to each other on a day to day basis.

But in a lot of cases, the social interactions are usually also inspired by something. The Hyte and Dett dynamics with Mar were written because I always saw those two dwarves following her around. Exi and Behem are both miners, so of course they interact a lot. The still is right by the gemcutting station and the room where Frote trains animals, so of course Kesti interacts with them. Stuff that makes sense.

I also tend to play in ridiculous ways. For example, Squib being stationed to monitor the elf beasts in the first update happened. I didn’t want them interrupting work orders.

A couple of the more prominent Dwarf Fortress-based humor bits that aren’t covered by the screenshots and wouldn’t be clear to a non-Dwarf Fortress player:

1. Trame electing himself into several important positions is a reference to how players tend to make one dwarf responsible for the manager, broker, and bookkeeper duties.
2. Exi’s architecture design (and the entire concept of what dwarf culture considers good art) is a reference to how many Dwarf Fortress players just design their fortresses in efficient squares instead of more elaborate designs.
3. The mules showing up everywhere and bothering everyone is an in-game mechanic. Animals you don’t keep in cages are obnoxious.
4. The syntax of the Mittens engraving is a combination of an in-game description of a Forgotten Beast and a description of a crafted object.
5. Dett’s entire concept is based off how (in 31.03 – it’s since been patched) doctors were broken and would either horribly murder their patients or were unable to do anything productive for them. Honestly I would have been fine with hospitals never getting patched for that reason.
6. In the Dett update, she laments the lack of serrated discs and enormous corkscrews as hospital supplies. Those are in-game trap components.
7. Kesti’s reverence of the dining hall is an in-game mechanic. Someone posted earlier that dwarves will be happy despite the murder of all their friends and family so long as they ate in a fine dining hall recently. It’s true.
8. War mules are an in-game mechanic, too, but I had to mod the game files to make them trainable as war animals. This was the only modification to the base game.

You should really go give Tarn Adams a couple bucks…

And so we come full circle

Posted in Art, Digital Innovation, Epiphenomena, Eschatology, Games on August 17th, 2010 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

“Dwarf Fortress is really the kind of game that benefits third party viewers most when it’s transcribed and narrated and illustrated, rather than just watched.”

Tarn Adams Interview Up on HASTAC

Posted in Art, Digital Innovation, Games on May 11th, 2010 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

My interview with Dwarf Fortress developer Tarn Adams is up on HASTAC.  I tried to craft a series of questions that would allow Tarn to discuss issues important to various Digital Humanities scholars, and not just a maps-and-games kind of guy like me.  He obliged:

Whether or not a narrative’s representation is effective really depends on what sort of graphics an individual player prefers more than anything, and the time and care put into the narrative are going to matter a lot more than the particular methods used.  Even “@…D” can be evocative if you’ve been stoked with the proper context–it’s the most terrifying D you can imagine.  At the same time, your imagination on the spot in situations like that is limited to what information you’ve been given coupled with the existing archetypes etc. in your head, and an artist’s dragon could be something you wouldn’t normally imagine, and that’s great too.  To some extent, it depends on how much and in what way you want your escapism influenced by the artist, which is a matter of taste.  In Dwarf Fortress, I think the lack of a strict, fixed narrative lends itself a bit more to ASCII to me personally, but that can’t be the basis for any kind of absolute judgment.

MacBook Pro Cancels Benchmark: Interrupted by Flaming Hot Magma

Posted in Digital Innovation, Eschatology, Games on April 27th, 2010 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

The folks at PCAuthority discovered something we already knew:  Dwarf Fortress is for serious performance testing.  Apparently, they used the WorldGen feature of everyone’s favorite roguelike fantasy world simulator to turn the i7 MacBook Pro into a really attractive griddle.

This iPhone 4G menaces with spikes of lawsuit.

Kill It With Magma

Posted in Art, Digital Innovation, Games on April 8th, 2010 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

There’s a great interview with Tarn Adams up on Negative Gamer.  Tarn and his brother are creating Dwarf Fortress, as inexplicable as it is marvelous.  How marvelous and inexplicable and crazy?  Well, if Baudrillard was writing Simulacra and Simulation today, he’d use Dwarf Fortress as his example, not Crash.  Dwarf Fortress makes Crash look like Parcheesi.

Learning Incorrect Schema

Posted in Academia, Digital Innovation, Epiphenomena, Fiction, Games on February 17th, 2010 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

Just finished watching Will Wright’s presentation for the Games for Learning Institute.  It’s cleansing, I think, to move from some of the raw intuition that open source types present as social commentary and listen to someone like Will Wright, who’s actually considering the difference between “the social landscape and the material landscape” and has been doing so for years.  The talk itself focused on the concept of games and stories as schema, fostering understanding of our world through lessons and cause-effect chains.

Wright obviously has been engrossed in story for his entire career, and during the unplanned delay before the talk engaged with an audience and pointed out that games do not supplant the linear narratives of books, but rather modify and complement them.  This comes up at the end of the talk, where he discusses Fractal Entertainment– How modern “properties” or “worlds” are not a single piece of media, but rather multiple expressions (some cinematic, some interactive, some linear, some board game, some RPG).  This includes not only top-down licensed expressions but also crowd-driven epiphenomena such as machinima and graphic novels based on Sims gameplay.

Also interesting is the concept of emergence not only within a game but also around a game, where the activity that surrounds, say, Wii Bowling, is as important to the enjoyment and definition of the game as the hardware and software.  As Wright puts it, the absurd gesticulations one makes while trying to bowl with a plastic stick.  But emergence plays a role outside the story proper, and becomes part of the meta-story, where the story is dissected and used as lesson (Wright notes that Blade Runner is the inspiration for city planners for The Dystopian Future to Avoid) and also as Story deconstructed into components to create what the designer calls “possibility space”.  And once that space is created, story emerges from it, to start the dialectical chain all over again.

Of course, story is too narrow, and Wright deals with this by settling on describing movies and books as linear narratives, which is broad enough not only to cover romance novels but also monographs and encyclopedias.  The convergence presented by Wright is mirrored by the convergence of high end research, focusing on model building and schema pattern strategies.  And while these schemas and models are arbitrary, they allow, as Wright points out, the ability to map the patterns that emerge within possibility space.

So many years of so many toys has left the theorists of the world in flux.  That’s why we have so many would-be philosophers with no background in the matter and so many academics struggling to understand their place in  society cut loose from the linear narrative.  It’s good to see someone like Will Wright, who is knowledgeable and systematic in his understanding of how the digital world and the social world mesh and the new subtleties available as a result of that meshing.  And on top of all that, there’s a great story about the Soviet space program accidentally crash-landing in China.

“Dinner for wolves”

OSRIC, the Usurper

Posted in Buckeye, Games on February 8th, 2010 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

Against all intuition and spurred by willful nostalgia, I went out and bought the 4th (5th?  18th?) Edition Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide.  I remember the halcyon days of yore, when I would spend hours of nerdy bliss reading about spheres of annihilation or various bits of Vecna–and even occasionally playing the games with others (which, in my experience, invariably proved that CRPGs didn’t turn gaming into a manic-obsessive tactical combat and resource gathering exercises, it simply did it with incredible graphics).  Of course, if you done what I done, then you know what I’m about to say.

It’s horrible.  It’s indescribably bad.  I had to go pick up an old MERPS scenario just to get the Pepsi flavor out of my mouth.  Apparently, despite the sublime comedy of Order of the Stick, AD&D can officially now stand for Attention Deficit and Disorder.  So I did what any right-thinking modern individual would, and I checked to see how the copyright works on good ol’ 1st Edition and it turns out you can’t copyright rules (I don’t know how WotC managed to trademark or patent or otherwise legally absorb tapping, maybe that was all just a dream…) and, sure enough, a bunch of good folks (who probably hold Richard Stallman in higher esteem than I) have already produced OSRIC, the Old School Reference and Index Compilation or, to put it another way, all of 1st Edition minus the Mind Flayers, blurry cats and balls o’ eyes.

Imagine a world where anyone can discover a +5 scimitar, regardless of whether or not they want to have dragonpeople come along for the ride (don’t get me wrong, I thought Dragonlance, while kinda drawn out and cheesy, way okay, and anyway, it’s Samson Agonistes compared to 4th Edition).

A Clockwork Canary

Posted in Art, Digital Innovation, Epiphenomena, Fiction, Games on January 15th, 2010 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

There’s such an insidious breakdown in the quality of a story after you write it down. It’s not even the writing, it’s that people read it and they just accept. Like they’re listening to old-time mystics, like these things happen because they were meant to happen, no matter how terrible the fight or touching the makeup. In reality, they’re so much more emotional. You lose that in writing because you can’t express to the reader the uncertainty. To them, we make up because it says, on page thirty-three, ‘They make up’.

But there are forms of storytelling that have been able to avoid that.

There was this old computer game, Zork. You run around solving puzzles and fighting, but you could mix something up, do the wrong thing at the wrong time, and it didn’t let you know. You keep playing, oblivious to the fact that you can’t win.

It’s simple, really. You run around collecting treasure—platinum and jewels and… stuff. Well, one of the treasures is this Faberge egg, all covered with jewels and gilt. But the egg isn’t the treasure, it’s what’s inside: this little bird, made of gold. No matter what you do to open it, the bird always gets broken and ruined. Like in life, there’s no warning and, just like in life, there’s nothing you could do to fix it. Video games nowadays, they’re determinist, derivative or just plain porn. But those old games, they were like life.

Life, not random but not determinist, not like a book. Why does every linear work need conflict, suffering and pain, why can’t it just be a happy story about love? Because it follows a pattern, it has to: because linear narratives can only do so much.

In Zork, there’s this thief, he prowls around while you’re playing, and if you’ve got something valuable he takes it, that’s why when you find the treasure, you have to lock it up. If you let him have the egg, he’ll open it. Turns out you can get the egg back, later, and next to it is this beautiful clockwork canary.

But I don’t know if it sang, because I always broke it.

Quest for Glory Fan Art

Posted in Art, Games on January 11th, 2010 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

Not the kind you’re expecting, but rather watercolor interpretations of AGDI’s remake of the classic Sierra On-Line 16-color sequel to the only briefly named Hero’s Quest: So You Want to Be a Hero.  Now, before you scoff, I know the artist and she’s eminently capable of producing more detailed work, but the goal here was to recreate the sense of 320×200 resolution with limited colors in the style of Persian miniatures.

Having Tea with the Enchantress Aziza

Having Tea with the Enchantress Aziza

The ending scene with the sultan

The ending scene with the sultan

The marketplace around the fountain in Shapeir

The marketplace around the fountain in Shapeir