MusicThe Sunday Song: August Timepieces

 Posted by (Visited 6991 times)  Music  Tagged with: , ,
Aug 282011

Recently some colleagues at Disney gave me a few gifts in thanks for giving a talk to some folks internally. Apparently Warren Spector picked out one of the gifts: a harmonic capo (he knows I play guitar, you see; been a few years, but we’ve jammed together). This little beastie sits on the 12th fret and presses down very lightly on the strings with rubber feet. Unlike a regular capo, though, it does not depress the strings all the way — instead, it sits lightly enough to cause an open pluck of that string to play a harmonic note — those bell-like tones you hear sometimes out of a guitar. But you can play under the capo, and still get standard notes. The result is that you play a regular chord, and any time you play an open string, you get a harmonic instead.

Well, I had to try it out. Beautiful on the Baby Taylor; didn’t fit on my Blueridge (the heel on the neck is too thick)… and just barely fit on the 1962 Gibson, which is what you’ll hear if you click the link. Because once I had it, I started to noodle about in open G, and, well… got this done in the last couple of hours:

download “August Timepieces”

Hope you like it!

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Game talkVideogame History Museum in danger

 Posted by (Visited 7184 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Aug 192011

If you have been to E3 lately, you have seen the awesome stuff that the Videogame History Museum puts together for its shows. If not, check out this video:

But now Gamasutra is reporting that Time May Be Running Out For The Videogame History Museum, because they have been unable to raise the money via Kickstarter to continue what they are doing by opening an actual physical museum.

They’ve got 12 days to go, and are only halfway there. If you want to keep this charity going and help them towards their goal of having a permanent museum location, please visit their Kickstarter page and donate!

Game talkIndie Game Challenge #3

 Posted by (Visited 7033 times)  Game talk  Tagged with:
Aug 192011

Got this in the mail, and thought some of you might be interested!

The third annual Indie Game Challenge is now open for entries! Don’t miss your chance to showcase your skills and catapult your professional gaming career to the next level.

Presented by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (AIAS), GameStop and The Guildhall at Southern Methodist University, the competition offers almost $250,000 in prize monies and scholarships, including a $100,000 grand prize for the winning game. Finalists will also receive national exposure and be eligible for additional prize money by having their pitch videos posted on and GameStop TV for People’s Choice Award voting.

Individuals or teams are asked to submit game betas and pitch videos by Oct. 3, 2011. Finalists will get the opportunity of a lifetime, will be flown to Las Vegas to attend the prestigious D.I.C.E. Summit, have a chance to showcase their games to top publishers in the video game industry set up by the IGC, and will be invited to attend the Indie Game Challenge Awards in February 2012.

If you have a game that you/your team would like to submit, or to simply support independent game developers, visit For questions about the registration process or game submissions, please email

Good luck!

Game talkNew Bartle video interview

 Posted by (Visited 6758 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , ,
Aug 152011

Got this in the mailbox:

Hello Mr. Koster,

I’m a big fan of your work and reader of your blog. You probably don’t remember me but I briefly met you at GDC Online last year. I was looking for Dr. Richard Bartle, who I did find and conducted an interview with.

A few months ago I released the interview on my Youtube Partner account but forgot to mention to you that I had done so. I thought you might be interested in it.

It’s divided into multiple parts because it was so long and I felt this would be a good way for people to keep track of each segment. Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoy!

I should be at GDC 2011 so perhaps I’ll see you there?


Interested indeed, and I am sure that others may be as well, so I’ve embedded them below the fold:

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MailbagMiscAGH COMIC SANS!!!

 Posted by (Visited 7427 times)  Mailbag, Misc  Tagged with: ,
Aug 152011

Dear Ralph,

I am going to study Game Architecture and Design in a few weeks, and I received the books for this education yesterday. Your book “A Theory of Fun for Game Design” is also part of the obligatory literature. When I took a look at the book, it quickly made me deeply disappointed. The book contains text typeset in Comic Sans. Besides being ugly, the font is not intended to be used for serious messages. I won’t go into details here, but I would like to point out to you, the website I cannot take text printed in Comic Sans seriously, and I regret that my teachers require me to read this comic book as part of a scientific education. I hope that you (or whoever typeset the book) will choose an appropriate font next time.

Kind regards, Ruud v. A.

That would be because the book is half cartoons. The cartoons have text in Comic Sans because, well, they’re cartoons. Some of them are even actual comics with multiple panes arranged sequentially and everything.

You’ll be pleased to know that the book also has headers typeset in the comicsanscriminal-recommended (and undeniably ugly) font Basically Functional.

MusicRIP Bill Morrissey

 Posted by (Visited 6609 times)  Music  Tagged with:
Aug 112011

I just learned that one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Bill Morrissey, passed away from heart failure a few weeks ago, at the age of 59. The news was drowned out in the hoopla around Amy Winehouse’s death, that very same day.

We started listening to Bill back around 1991 or 1992; I had seen a review of his album Inside and we were feeling adventurous and interested in trying out some new music. We didn’t have lots of money to spare at the time — starving college students — so taking a flyer on someone was a big deal. If I recall correctly, the same batch of tapes (no CDs for us, they were too pricey) led us to other favorites like Patty Larkin and Greg Brown.

He had a gravelly voice, and his lyrics were like short stories — narrative poems that weren’t afraid of emotion and honesty, but also some truly hilarious songs you could only call “ditties” — hummable silly things that were just great fun. Above all, they were stories of ordinary life for working class Americans. As a 19 year old, he left college to work on a fishing boat in Alaska, gig across California, and ended up working in a mill in New Hampshire. When he sang “who knew it got this cold in Barstow” he was writing from experience.

We ended up seeing him live at least three times — at Birmingham City Stages, at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas, and in the intimacy of the Cactus Cafe in Austin. I got to talk to him a bit after that Cactus gig, and got his novel Edson autographed. It’s a Raymond Carver-esque novel about working class people in New Hampshire, with a singer-songwriter who never made it big at its core. Bill himself did make it big, for a folk singer — two Grammy nominations! But like most folk singers, he never saw significant commercial success. But many who worked with him did — backing vocals on his early albums were from Shawn Colvin and Suzanne Vega, and he produced one of Ellis Paul’s albums.

It was impossible to ignore the undercurrent of songs about alcoholism that ran through his work; he was upfront on his website about how much it had impacted his life. He was also later diagnosed as bipolar. Both took a big toll on his career, I think. But the albums, though they slowed, kept coming. He died of heart disease, quite unexpectedly — but he was on tour.

I have a lot of his songs in my fakebook, and I played several of them at the concerts I did live on Metaplace. Here are my versions of three songs of his, taken from those concerts.

– Robert Johnson

A song about the bluesman who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads. Morrissey had a lot of affinity for some of the older bluesmen, though not so much with Johnson — more with Mississippi John Hurt; he did a whole album of covers of Hurt, in fact.

– Waiting for the Rain

One of the most chilling songs I have ever heard, about a farmer family facing a drought, and a storm, and maybe more.

– Birches

I picked one of his songs in particular, “Birches,” as the closing song when the service shuttered. It’s a song about a married woman whose husband no longer seems to be on the same wavelength. He wants to put oak in the fireplace, because it will burn long and steady. She kind of wants to have a glass of wine, and dance to the flickery exciting light of birch wood, even though it will burn out and leave the house cold that night. He goes to bed, and she drinks her wine, puts “logs as white as a wedding dress” in the fireplace, and dances with herself. The final lines are amazing: “She thought of heat, thought of time, and called it an even trade.”

I think of that song every time I miss something that I didn’t get to have nearly long enough; and every time I think about how lucky I am to have lasting love and warmth in my life. Really, skip my version, and go for the real thing. In fact, hunt down all of his work.

We already know how Bill’s doing now, fortunately, because he told us, in his song “Letter from Heaven.”

“And me, I couldn’t be happier. The service here is fine. They’ve got dinner ready at half-past nine. And I’m going steady with Patsy Cline. And just last night in a bar room, I bought Robert Johnson a beer. Yeah, I know, everybody’s always surprised to find him here.’’

I am very much going to miss that sense of humor, and that to-the-bone sense of story. Word is that he had finished a second novel; I hope it sees print, because I don’t want to have heard the last from Bill Morrissey.


Game talkAm I a game neoconservative?

 Posted by (Visited 8781 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , ,
Aug 022011

I love arguing with Ian Bogost in public. 🙂

Every now and then someone objects to game design methods by arguing against “historical aberrance.” This line of reasoning claims that a particular trend is undesirable on the grounds that it is new and abnormal, unshared by historical precedent.

First, a few years ago Raph Koster invoked this argument about single player games. As Koster put it, “the entire video game industry’s history thus far has been an aberration. It has been a mutant monster only made possible by unconnected computers. … Historically speaking, single-player games are indeed an aberration.”

…following Koster’s retort, we could fault Heavy Rain for replacing human storytellers and listeners — who are good at making rapid judgments and improvisations based on different actions and their possible outcomes — and replacing them with a much coarser narrative simulation system that operates only according to the limited interpretations possible by a computer.

…Video games aren’t science. They are not a mystery of the universe that can be explained away via testable predictions and experimentation. We need to stop looking for answers

Gamasutra – Features – Persuasive Games: From Aberrance to Aesthetics.


Oddly, I am a fan of both Heavy Rain and Sleep is Death. The context of my original remark was at a business conference, not a design conference, and was aimed much more at shaking up preconceptions about the game industry than anything else.

I do believe firmly that single-player is fighting the tide, in that it works against some fundamental characteristics of the *real* canvas on which we work, which is the human brain. And I say this as a huge fan of single-player games. I think it is inevitable that single-player gaming drifts towards two poles: the interactive narrative and the puzzle, precisely because of this canvas. I also think it is inevitable that they will come to be wrapped, at all times, with multiplayer and social components — and I suspect that in the years since my original statement, this has gotten a lot less controversial than it once was!

That said, I will disagree with this statement: “Video games aren’t science. They are not a mystery of the universe that can be explained away via testable predictions and experimentation.”

I think they are, and this doesn’t preclude them also being an art. I think they are a mystery of the human brain that can be explained with greater knowledge of ourselves, and can have hypotheses proven or disproven by testable predictions and experimentation.

What’s more, I think that said predicting-and-hypothesizing is happening today at a very rapid pace, and that we are in fact learning more and more every day about an emerging science of game design.

The artists among us — a group in which I count myself! — can be and rightly should be troubled by this, because it evokes the spectre of a time when the market comes to be dominated by mathematically derived pablum designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator hindbrain triggers in our psychology, much like film (link, or see the orange-and-blue phenomenon) or music (see the soundwave analysis firms that predict hit-worthiness of music algorithmically) or graphic design or or or.

See, I am not advocating these positions. I am observing things, and arriving at conclusions. In fact, when I have engaged in advocacy, it has been to argue the case of art, for aesthetics, for broader influences and diversity — in fact, this exact topic is one I wrote about five years ago in a post called “The Algorithm or Art?” When I said at Project Horseshoe a few years ago that “I think games are math, and it worries me,” I really mean it.

I don’t think that greater understanding of color theory, golden sections, and perspective necessarily preclude there being art in the process of making paintings, though. It may well be that by taking up a given medium, though, we are choosing our shackles, choosing which constraints we limit ourselves with. Game grammar, theory of fun, social mechanics, etc, are just my attempt to explicate to myself, what the building blocks of this medium are.

That means I can enthusiastically sign on for Ian’s call “Let’s make games. Let’s make good ones. Let’s try to figure out what that means for each of us. Let’s help our colleagues and our players and our critics understand it.” But it also means that I disagree with Clive Bell, whom he cites at the end of the article, inasmuch as I do regard the tensile strength of clay as a essential and yes, exhaustible quality of the art made with said clay. My goal would be to turn that to strength rather than weakness.