Computer games

Project Trico, Google Wave, and Benjamin Button

Project Trico

Two of my favorite video games are Ico and Shadow of the Colossus . . . actually, I think they are the only console games I’ve ever been able to pass (not that I play very many).  They’re like puzzle adventure games.  The team that makes them is working on a new title for the PS3 (which I guess I’ll have to get) which for now is being called Project Trico.  The video on YouTube looks . . . interesting.  Some kid going around with some strange cat-bird with arrows in it.  The cat-bird’s movements look very realistic if it wasn’t so humongous.

Anyway, what I really loved about the video was the music.  Very epic and inspiring.  I learned from Wikipedia that music was from a 1990’s film called Miller’s Crossing, a Coen brothers movie, and the music was by Carter Burwell, who recently scored Twilight.  So I put the movie Miller’s Crossing on hold at the library; I’m interested in seeing how the music fits with the dark gangs-and-guns story.  I’m also probably going to end up buying the soundtrack (because they still sell on CD *cough* stupid Disney Records *cough*).

Google Wave

The other exciting thing I saw earlier this week was this video on Google Wave (or this article which sums up the main points).  Ooooh, doesn’t that look awesome?  Hard to say exactly what sort of impact it will have on online communication, but it could be very big.  I’m especially interested in the real-time multiple-user collaboration; I would’ve loved to have that available while still in school working on group projects.  I’m also excited by the gaming possibilities this could provide, and would be very interested in trying to program some gadget-games for it.  I requested a sandbox developer account, but they never got back to me . . . of course, I’m sure tens of thousands have requested one, and when this Google Wave goes live to everyone, it will already be oversaturated with games . . . which is good!  I look forward to playing them!  But I will still want to try designing my own.

Benjamin Button (with spoilers!)

I finished watching the film The Boring Stupid Case of Benjamin Button the other day.  Visually, it was great.  The recreation of older time periods, the make-up, the cinematography . . . brilliant work.  But the story . . . what story?  There really wasn’t much of one.  There was hardly any conflict, only a couple of very shallow romantic conflicts.  The main character, Benjamin Button, had no important goals, and therefore there was really nothing he had to overcome.  This is a huge disappointment because the premise, a boy being born old and becoming younger, would seem to spark many conflicts.  How would others react if they knew the truth?  (They didn’t seem to be very bothered.)  How would he find love when he was young but looked old?  (Easily, it seems.)  When he was young, shouldn’t he be jealous of normal people?  And when he got old, shouldn’t others be jealous of him?  (Nah!)  When he grew down into a child’s body, wouldn’t it have been more dramatic if he had been a wise 70 year old, trying to convince adults that he was older and more experienced than them?  Nah . . . they just have him start forgetting everything when that point comes.

And, since Benjamin really had no goals, he had no personality.  He never really wanted anything, besides to be with a woman every now and then.  He didn’t struggle with envy for normal people, he didn’t worry very much about his awkward future, he didn’t deal with anger issues toward his father who abandoned him, he didn’t struggle with very much loneliness.  Lots of missed potential.

It seems like the writers were in a bit of a hurry to create this film, because they did a horrible job.  They expanded an idea into a screenplay without adding any story.  *Sigh*  It could’ve been good.

Remember . . . an idea is not a story!  You might start with an idea, but the story still has to be about something.  It might seem mundane or cliche, such as a simple love story, or a war story, or a life-struggles story (which is what Ben Button should’ve been about), but it needs that conflict built around the initial idea.  You can’t just take the idea and run with it.

The only way Ben Button could’ve succeeded without a story is if it had been a comedy.  Comedy can get away with there being little story because the point is in the little stories, the gags, the jokes.  Forrest Gump had no big story, but it was funny.  A Christmas Story had very little story, but it was funny.  And I’m sure there are plenty more . . .

So I give Benjamin Button 2 out of 10 stars, which is pretty pathetic.

Okay, that’s all I have to say for today.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Computer games

Generative systems, games, and music

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This is the new blog! Hope you like this new WordPress version! As you may be able to see, I was able to import all my old posts so I’m not starting over completely from scratch.

Perhaps the most significant change to this new blog is that I’m now trying to make a little podcast out of it. Hearing a voice may be somewhat more interesting, or at least more fun for me to produce. That said, I’m sure I won’t be able to record something for every single post, just as I know I can’t post every single day, but I’ll see how it goes.

I got my 2nd rejection slip of ’08 earlier this week for my short story Oberon’s Paradise. I have three or four more magazines I want to try selling it to, then I don’t think I’ll be able to resist the urge to just podcast it with some incidental music, as I think that would be fun to create. I have a few other short stories I’m working on, but nothing near completion yet. And I should really get back to writing my other two novels as well sometime.

SporeAlso earlier this week, I found a very interesting video on YouTube with game designer Will Wright and some musician that I’ve never heard of. They were talking about generative systems, which Wikipedia calls “systems that use a few basic rules to yield extremely varied and unpredictable patterns.” So, they are basically systems which are good at producing emergent properties. The video from YouTube is just a clip from a much longer talk they gave (available to see here) which I could not resist sitting through. In the longer video, you get to see Will Wright talk about the role of generative systems in games and, more specifically, in the upcoming game Spore. He also touched briefly on the subject of applying generative systems to narrative stories, which I also thought was pretty fascinating.

Anyway, this is the YouTube clip.

One other thing that caught my attention in the longer video. Take a look at what they say about music:

Will Wright: Can you imagine any sort of even this past computational filter that would pre-listen to the music, analyze the structure, look for a pattern, whatever, that would at least prune out the 90% that you obviously don’t want to listen to and let you focus your efforts on the 10% that has some promise?

Brian Eno: Would you like to work on that for me?

Will Wright: Sure, I would love to. You just have to give me the algorithms, I’ll cut it right up for you.

Brian Eno: No, it’s, funnily enough there’s been a lot of research into that, because you know there are always people trying to figure out how you write a hit.

Will Wright: Oh, I see. Formalizing the–

Brian Eno: Something I wouldn’t mind knowing about.

Will Wright: The hit generator.

Brian Eno: So there’s been all sorts of attempts to do that, but they’ve been astoundingly unsuccessful so far.

I would agree that for the most part, most people exploring that area have been unsuccessful (though I honestly believe it’s only a matter of time) but I wonder if Mr. Eno is at all familiar with David Cope’s awesome work? His computer program doesn’t write music in exactly the way Will Wright describes, but I’d still say Cope’s program is, in a way, a form of a generative system.

So, as I have started writing a book on the art of melody (or started planning it, really), I think I will definitely explore the subject of a generative system for melody. I’m not sure I’ll do anything really new, but it must be a fascinating area of study.

Oooh, I just visited Mr. Cope’s site, and it looks like he’s got two free rough-draft books up temporarily, one on musical suggestions for beginning music students and one on … of all things, board games! Games, music, generative systems, it’s all related! I love it!

😀

By S P Hannifin, ago