Installation reveals the game-like complexity of life on the Scottish isles

Off the Western coast of Scotland, the Hebrides are a set of islands somewhat removed from the mainland. Scottish Gaelic is most prevalent there, but the furthest island out appears to be named for a non-existent saint, while some get their names from Norse or even pre-Celtic languages. 1973 horror film The Wicker Man is set on a fictional island among the Hebrides, and so is The Chinese Room’s Dear Esther (2012). There’s a misty sense of uncertainty brought on by the distance between the far-flung islands, and by the fact that travel from one island to another has historically…


A videogame about making the kind of game you’re not supposed to make

There’s a succinct piece of traditional wisdom in videogame development: start small. It’s common for nearly everyone who wants to make a game to have a great idea for a massively multiplayer online game, but if you’re just getting started, that’s a pretty tough project to get off the ground, to say the least. At the end of 2014, Aaron John-Baptiste made a game called TMO (Tiny Multiplayer Online) for the weekend-long game jam Ludum Dare. The jam theme was “Entire Game on One Screen” and the tiny MMO-maker plays like a small “clicker game”—you put down Level 1 combat…

Alphago on big screen

AlphaGo’s win is a victory for humans, not machines

Google’s stream of the 5-game Go series between DeepMind’s AlphaGo and Lee Sedol was odd. It put little vector-graphic landmarks from Seoul opposite little vector-graphic landmarks from London. But I never once heard it suggested that this was a battle between Korea and the UK. Maybe it would have been more appropriate to put a brain on one side and a processor on the other, but that’s equally inaccurate. It may not seem it at first, but AlphaGo and its victory represents human effort and human progress. While we still have “the machines” under control, they are tools for our…


Just what are we losing to Google’s AlphaGo?

In Tang dynasty China, Go was one of the skills socially required of a certain class of educated elite—along with calligraphy, painting, and the ability to play the stringed guqin, it was part of a kind of artistic quadrivium. The art and beauty of the game are present in the way it is played, but also in descriptions and metaphors for the shapes that appear on the board during play. One of the first shapes shown to new players is the “eye.” If a group of white stones is surrounded by black stones on all sides, it is captured. The…

The Swords

Practice patience with painterly, puzzle-like swordplay

The format of a mobile game is pretty well-honed by now. From Super Hexagon (2012) to Crossy Road (2014), the games we play on our phones are (for the most part) broken up into short-and-sweet attempts to break high scores. When they were new, maybe we imagined spending more time in waiting rooms than we actually do, but now we seem to be able to find a lot of time for these bite-sized bursts of game. However, a new game from Lee-Kuo Chen and Sunhead Games—creators of A Ride into the Mountains (2013)—called The Swords, doesn’t totally line up with this mobile design paradigm. While…


A videogame about the impossibility of grieving for Pol Pot

“Much of the experience of the site takes place in one’s head,” says the itch.io page for Cho-am, a new game from Aaron Oldenburg. The site described is the place where Pol Pot—the brutal dictator behind the Cambodian genocide in the late 70s—was cremated. In “real life” Cambodia, this site is near the Thai border, and is host to a small shrine made up of a tin roof over a mound of ash and dirt. Sometimes it is decorated with flowers or incense. Cho-Am deals with the difficulty of understanding the way others process incomprehensible national trauma. Oldenburg writes of…

Venti Mesi

Play through Italian trauma in these fables of fascism from WWII

A fable is put together like a joke: the punchline—the clever inversion we expect at the end—is set up with a story, sometimes just a framework distilled into the simplest form of itself. The hare oversleeps and the tortoise wins, and while we may have details about the hare’s braggadocio, these animals lack names or histories or lives outside the fable. These things aren’t important for the punchy moment the ending gives us, or for the moral we get to keep afterwards. And the purity and simplicity of the fable are what allow it to permeate our culture so completely…

Dwarf Fortress

There’s now a bot that can play Dwarf Fortress for you

In some ways, you can think of a community as a machine—some members grow food products to be turned into meals, which then feed the members responsible for producing raw materials, so they can serve others that may hone those materials into goods that represent economic viability. With more members and more land, the community-machine expands its ability to produce, maybe infinitely. And “infinite” is a useful word to a person looking at Dwarf Fortress (2006) for the first time—it’s hard to communicate just how much information there is in one session. It’s not technically infinite, but the average new world has…


Jalopy will take you on a ramshackle road trip through the Eastern bloc

If the “racing game” is about the ticking clock, the turn rate, the time it takes to get from 0 to 60, maybe the “driving game” is about the little things—losing track of time on a long trip, deciding to stop at the next hotel, turning on your windshield wipers instead of your turn signal. Greg Pryjmachuk used to work with the folks who make more traditional racing games like DiRT (2007) and GRID (2008) and the F1 games, but now he’s making Jalopy (previously called Hac), which doesn’t look particularly “traditional” at all. The physicality of maintaining the car…