‘What is art?’ may be well trodden ground, but well trodden ground many of us feel excluded from. Is art something about mastery? I don’t think it is; but I think that mastery is one of the major blocks that excludes us from the conversation. An artist is not a master of a single thing, a thing which has been accepted as “being art”. They say that the quartet they saw was absolutely perfect, the only perfect quartet, and they know that because they know of such things; of such things which we don’t. There is a saying that a jack of all trades is a master of none, but the idea that mastery has something to do with specialisation in a certain area is the second block keeping us from the conversation. Mastery is more a sureness of purpose, but then not all artists are sure of what they are doing.
So a while ago I played Gone Home. Some people got angry that it wasn’t a game, some people loved the fact it wasn’t a game. But we all still call it a game. It was reviewed on game sites at the least. ‘Game’ is a limiting a word as ‘Art’, in fact even more so. “Are games art?” may be a fight the video gamers are determined to win, but why are we? Lets break down the barriers to be confronted with more barriers. Gone Home is many things, a story, a challenge, an adventure, interactive. Most of the reviews agree that it hadn’t mastered any of the things it set out to do; but it was sure of it’s purpose.
So the reviews are in two camps; those who gave it a 5 for being art and those who gave it a 1 for not doing game things too well. I was just glad I didn’t pay full price. What should I give it? My heart is telling me that it shouldn’t get a grade, because that is my point! Should I exclude you all, do I know such things? But anyway my brain tells me that my Google rank will be higher if I give it a grade, because a grade is a thing that Google will see in a rich snippet. So that’s what art is. something we can explain with microdata for Google to pick up and pass around.
A new breed of game wants us to know that sometimes it is more fun to lose than it is to win. These games play on the fact that every time we lose we learn something new and a story is told. I think that this a place educational institutions should explore, but until then this is a list of my favorite games where losing is fun.
The game sees the players creating an managing a Dwarf Settlement that is drawn on screen using ASCII text characters for its graphics set. This means that developer can throw in new things for the player to manage such as items/characters/monsters in to the mix without having to worry about how they look on screen.
This means there are a lot of items and characters in Dwarf Fortress to worry about, what makes things hard is that they interact with each other in increasingly complex ways. Players will struggle to manage the complexity thrown at them and the Fortress will eventually fall, but a cool story will emerge from the ashes.
My favorite fortress collapsed when some of my dwarfs adopted cats as pets. The dwarfs refused to let me turn them in to cat pie. The cats fell in love and had babies; when then proceeded to have more babies, who in turn had another litter. More of my Dwarfs adapted cats and there was no going back. Soon the fortress was full to the brim and the dwarfs couldn’t work without tripping over a little blighter.
Project Zomboid is a retro zombie survival game. While it may look retro it doesn’t play like it. It’s a zombie survival game with RPG elements. You have to loot houses, build defences and look for foor and supplies. As the game goes on the hoards of zombies get bigger, the power supply goes, fridges and taps stop working. Fortunatly your survival skills also get better as time goes on, so while you can no longer drink from a tap, you can start building rain collector.
The game can come to an end at any time. Desperate for a drink you forgot to read the label of your bottle? Maybe you just drank bleach. I like the fact you don’t always know if you’ve messed up or not. Am I feeling dizzy because I’ve spent to long in the rain and the feeling will pass or should I be worried about that scratch from a zombie.
Dayz is a multiplayer mod for the game Arma II. A mod so popular it boosted sales of the original game by 300,000 in two months. The aim of the mod is simple; to stay alive in a zombie invested town as long as possible. While it may sound like this game is going to be a lot like project zomboid, it isn’t. On one level it would seen there is less complexity to be found in Dayz than Zomboid as there are less items, less places to loot and no things to build (except to rebuild a helicopter or car, which is as hard as nails). However, the game is multiplayer and the difficulty lies in surviving the other players. There are limited number of items to be found in the game world and a friend can be quick to stab you in the back when they discover you have a stash of those all important bandages.
The map layout in DayZ also adds to the creation of a story when the player eventualy loses. All players start near a beach, making it a hotspot for bandits hoping to loot your starting gear. If you survive the early game player controlled bandits you have to make choices, each choice can bring death. Do I stay in the woods where the zombies are scarce but the food even more so? When should I risk a trip in to town or the hospital? DayZ isn’t a fast paced multiplayer game but your life depends on everything decision both you and your fellow players make. Every time you die you’ll remember the decision you made and the player or zombie that took you out .
FTL takes its inspiration from science fiction series such as Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek. You manage a small space s
hip crew delivering enemy war plans as they are chased through space by an army of rebels. The gameplay is split in to ‘jumps’. Each jump is a through space and a step closer to your goal. Each jump also runs the risk a space battle with pirates, rebels or
unfriendly aliens. In these battles you must micro manage your crew in a captain kirk style. You make decisions such as should more power go to the guns or sheilds? Should there be two officers in the Engine room in the hope of speeding up your escape or should one be sacrifieced while putting out fires? The consequences of each decision will haunt you in future next jumps. Was it worth sacrificing that crew member for some money to upgrade your rockets?
Faster than light can be won but it isn’t easy. Every time you lose in FTL it will either be because you made a mistake when choosing your course of action or because the constant damages from jumps has brought you down. Both lead to a great player created story of defeat!
I’ve become a big fan of games that embrace the losing is fun style of gameplay. Losing is Fun is the slogan of strategy game Dwarf Fortress, the concept is simple; the game gets so hard that you will die and it will be in such a fun way that you will want to play again. The gameplay in Dwarf Fortress lends itself to ‘Losing is fun’ as the game gets gradually harder the complexity of keeping a fortress increases, somewhere you along the line you mess up, perhaps forgetting to give a dwarf the correct bedroom furniture and he will go crazy slaying the stock manager dwarf who owns one to many wardrobes in a fit of envy; eventually your fortress collapses under the lack of proper book keeping (This honestly happened to me). The concept of ‘losing is fun’ seems to have captured the hearts of developers too with a handful of Dwarf Fortress clones cropping up all over the place. Since Dwarf Fortress has ASCII based graphics these clones have taken the formula and tried to make it more friendly, this is all well and good but I would like to see more games taking the concept and applying it to genre other than base building.
That’s not to say developers aren’t trying, earlier in the year I was very impressed by an excellent little game called Faster Than Light which sees you race across the galaxy in a space being chased by an enemy fleet. The game concentrated around micro management of the crew of the ship, basically trying to keep them alive as long as possible. While it was possible to win Faster Than Light I never beat it on anything other than easy mode, but enjoy stretching out the life of my crew as long as possible on the harder settings.
This weekend I stumbled across another losing is fun game. Project Zomboid starts each game with a survivor in a zombie apocalypse stating ‘This is the story of how I died’. It’s an isometric game based in a small city, you have to eat, sleep, drink, make/find shelter and avoid zombies etc. You can escape the city to hide in the surrounding fields but the seems to be a massive list of things that can go wrong with your character that will force you back in to town to scavenge. Eventually you will die. The subreddit for the game seems to be full of stories of funny deaths, including a chap so desperate for water he chanced drinking a bottle of bleach. Here is a nice collection of screenshots by a chap who killed himself setting off a house alarm.
I think this will be a game to keep an eye on, you can buy it now on Steam Greenlight but I recommend playing the demo first. I fully support the ‘pay up front and play the alpha’ model of game developments as I think it leads to games that can take a creative chance, I’ve been fortunate to be a part of Minecraft, Don’t Starve and Prison Architect early in their lives and don’t think they would be possible without that sort of funding model. I do however think it’s worth holding on to see if the developer delivers consistent updates before taking the plunge tho. I particularly like to see British developers being creative and get a buzz from supporting them; so fingers crossed the developers of Project Zomboid -Indiestone will deliver constant updates and I’ll soon join the early access people.
Edit: I purchased this game since playing the demo and you should too, it’s awesome.
I recently saw a great article on how to create a recommendation system in R by yhat. I thought it looked fun and decided to hook one up myself. Thinking about datasets I started to wonder about recommendation systems that might I might use. The one that immediately sprang to mind was one based on MOOCs.
I thought a MOOC recommendation system would be a good idea because I sign up to lots of them, but complete none. I headed onto the web to find a dataset of reviews and found practically nothing! Which makes me wonder, when MOOCs are free, how do we control the quality?
Here are some things I did find.
1) Coursetalk.org is a review and ratings site, unfortunatly to make any kind of recommendation system I’d need access to the reviews via API. Unable to find anything on the website I emailed the developer asking for access and this was the reply:
2) I contacted a colleague who has been on quite a few MOOCs (and actually finished some!), who pointed to the only thing about quality in MOOCs that she knew about, an EFQUEL initiative.
I feel a bit disheartened by the whole thing, for now I might have to do some screenscraping 🙁