Wow, I finished it! Neal Stephenson's Reamde is far from a simple novel. It starts a high tech plotless story, evolves into a Hollywood thriller, joinWow, I finished it! Neal Stephenson's Reamde is far from a simple novel. It starts a high tech plotless story, evolves into a Hollywood thriller, joins the travelit section later, and finally matches James Bond's useless flics in a 100+ shoot-out scene. Overall, not worth the time.
The positives? This part of the review should not even exist, yet... Stephenson is a fantastic writer, and this book shows how even the dullest of settings can capture imagination when described right. I also liked the characters, many strongly defined and interesting. This is also one of the few thrillers in which women are portrayed as important characters, without having to make them caricatures of 007. The tech side, including aspects in the online game that unifies the story, is credible. Well done!
The negatives? 1. This book is 850 pages too long, given it's plot. Enough said. 2. There are enough inconsistencies in the plot. Surprisingly for me, they do not derive from the depiction of either tech or jihad, but from the procedural itself. 3. If you read this book, you will be bombarded with simple-minded equations: Middle East=jihad, guns=defense, etc. Never mind that the jihadis buy RPGs from the store (for self-defense?! or hunting?!). 4. Plot twist indeed: Abdallah Jones is the most determined and knowledgeable jihadi in the world, yet he gets stuck in a one-road region. 5. Finishing this book will make you question all the time spent on it, yet curiously satisfied. Book pron....more
TODO: +/- office drama as genre, good bc the topic is good, not good bc of old work-ethics conflict. +++ new topic: computer-game journalism. ++ treatmenTODO: +/- office drama as genre, good bc the topic is good, not good bc of old work-ethics conflict. +++ new topic: computer-game journalism. ++ treatment of women in computer game industry an important part of the plot. + Description of media outlets, focusing on editor in chief, editor, reporter, podcaster, and a few other minor roles. +++ Like the way the protagonist is both capable and humanly flawed. Realistic take. + Humorous. +/- Decent writing, some hiccups, nothing really memorable. -- Boring story. --- Simplistic plot. --- Hollywood ending....more
What a beautiful book! Constellation Games is a sci-fi that's a love story, a coming-of-age novel that's a comedy, a computer games fest that's seriouWhat a beautiful book! Constellation Games is a sci-fi that's a love story, a coming-of-age novel that's a comedy, a computer games fest that's serious. Get it, read it, savor it!
The background story seems at first our typical aliens-contact-Earth, but quickly dissolves in a discussion about bigot and liberal, Aliens and Earthlings playing in both camps. The storyline gets messy very quickly, but there is an optimistic line that makes it beautiful.
The epistolary style (should I call it blogary style?) is distracting at first, but then becomes increasingly more suitable to represent the life of the main characters, who are as disconnected online as they are in their real lives, and characterise quite well the documented lifestyle of the born-digital generation.
I also liked very much the part about computer games, with the book's detailed discussion about game design, with the barbs aimed at today's industry many problems (Poneis brilhantes FTW!), with the accurate desc of how it is to go indie. Perhaps I liked this part too much, to the point where I stopped often to think about game designs derived from this book's. Funny, I spent less time thinking about the moral implications of aliens stealing the Polar ice-caps (yes, it happens in this book).
The characters are well cast, and the macho gamedev culture and the rebel indie artist are captured spot-on. The Feds are more stick figures and could have been done better. The aliens are for me surprisingly well contoured, especially given the length of the material in which they feature; truly a good sci-fi writ.
Enough said, go read this: fun and learning and even some depth. Not your typical sci-fi, not your typical gamedev book!...more
Overall, I disliked the book, but it was interesting to see the wicked problem concept applied to games. You and I probably have a more ethical way toOverall, I disliked the book, but it was interesting to see the wicked problem concept applied to games. You and I probably have a more ethical way to spend our money.
+++ The notion of a wicked problem, explained in the context of games. Not innovative, as shown by prior work included in the reference list of this book, but useful. --- The thin, speculative theories. In the end, the author admits the proposed framework can fail, if used too obviously and without embedding into a broader game context. Simply put, the ethical framework proposed here can seem to players moralist and preachy. -- The survey of relate work is unstructured. -- The use of examples is rather poor. The games selected to exemplify aspects of the theory or simply to analyze are often obscure, and their analysis has a confirmation bias (the author picks from the selected games only the parts that confirm his theory, leaving the others aside). --- The pompous writing. The attempt to cast this as a book accessibble to everyone is deceiving. The long apology to semiotics is a major detractor.
Overall, an interesting book that game designers should read. Some parts are slow or shallow, though.
+ Nice, albeit not unique or even innovative, comOverall, an interesting book that game designers should read. Some parts are slow or shallow, though.
+ Nice, albeit not unique or even innovative, comparison of game with other media. Core idea: a medium leads to a spectrum of expression, of things that can be done with it. As the different ranges of the spectrum are explored, the medium ceases to be a place for innovation, of doing new things, and becomes standardized, even boring. This book is about surveying the important ranges in the expression spectrum of games. +++ A surprisingly well-written and accessible book of game critique. Ian Bogost is a game developer with broader interests talking to other game developers with broader interests. +++ Many concepts have been successfully applied by the author in developing games with a purpose. As a limitation, many of the applications are advergames or sims, especially political. I'd like to try Persuasive Games' The Arcade Wire: Airport Security. +++ Idea that people will stop calling themselves "gamers", much as they do not call themselves "TVers" or "readers" (with the exception of fanatic bookworms, such as the Goodreads crowd). +++ The chapter on kitsch is very interesting, and explains well why FarmVille and other social games succeed so well commercially, while being relatively unappreciated (or simply frowned upon) by both hardcore gamers and game critics: it is "an art they [me, you, the masses of gamers around the world] can understand". There's even a hint of religion in there, especially Puritanism. +++ Very interesting and inspiring analysis of zen games, for relaxation and reflection. Selection and analysis of prior zen games also very useful. I really loved Flow, although I've played it only in a museum. +++ Very good coverage of vignette games. ++ Good selection of games for change, including Darfur is Dying. ++ Good chapter on newsgames. Interesting idea in tabloid games, see Zidane Head-Butt. Me: what would be a The Sun of games? Interesting idea in editorial games. + The review of artgames. Many excellent examples when discussing artgames, including Jason Rohrer's. + Nice contrast: casual games are lean back, hardcore games are lean forward. + The speculation on what should constitute a casual game is interesting. + The notion of proceduralist games, which favor introspection over immediate gratification, is also interesting in the context of creating ethical gameplay experiences -- this book offers imo a much better theory on the topic, than Miguel Sicart's in Beyond Choices The Design of Ethical Gameplay. + The idea that lower resolution GFX and SFX can reflect design goals, not lower production quality. + Interesting idea in snapshot games -- games of facile use, little content, useful for a fleeting moment. Not something I'd like to explore, but interesting concept taken from the world of photography, nevertheless. + "The feat made Obama the first presidential candidate to advertise inside a videogame." + The notion of "sublime mastery" and the discussion about how "a low, rather than high, ceiling to mastery might offer greater rather than less appeal". Are we thrill seekers or mastery seekers? Ask players of Candy Crush, Bejeweled, Zuma, etc. + Take on education and training games interesting. (But take on serious games overall too shallow, see negative point.) +/- The chapter on titillation is not deep or thoughtful. +/- The coverage of games with a purpose (gwap) could have been deeper and broader. --- The book slows down considerably at times, especially in music and travel-related chapters. --- Some of the theories are particularly thin. Who can decide if a game is primarily proceduralist or, the contrary, its visual/aural/textual presence is predominant. Except for the artgames that purposely reduce or remove the other elements, different people would experience the games in different ways, and likely not as proceduralist games. Is go, due to its "easy to learn, hard to master" philosophy, a casual game? Is "catchiness" an useful and needed concept? - The references to other media are nicely explained for everyone, but could seem shallow to an art critic. (It is difficult to be an art critic of several media.) - The take on metaphores in games is rather thin. - Shallow survey of serious games. The next edition of the book could cover UN's use of Minecraft....more
As a fan of Minecraft, I've been looking forward to this one -- A year with Minecraft behind the scenes at Mojang by Thomas Arnroth. Based on the persAs a fan of Minecraft, I've been looking forward to this one -- A year with Minecraft behind the scenes at Mojang by Thomas Arnroth. Based on the personal experience as an invited journalist inside the Minecraft makers Mojang, the book covers the crucial year 2012 (I think, see negative comments in the following), right after Minecraft became an IGF sensation, earned over 50 million players, and just as Mojan was voted the ``world second best game studio in the world by influential game magazine Edge.''
Overall, the only thing saving this book is that it's about Minecraft. Other than this, A year with Minecraft is too short, is too badly written, and adds too little material to the official documentary Minecraft: The Story of Mojang (2011). Did I mention there is not even a reasonable interview with the members of the crew or Markus "Notch" Persson? (What did Arnroth do the whole year?! Just watched the news, the tweets, and the documentaries others made?! Only picked up 1-2 quips, while being in the studio, to be churned into interviews?)
On the positive side, there is a history of Mojang (hint: Wikipedia and MinecraftWiki have enough about this), a history of Minecraft (hint: there are better sources online, both written and video), a description of Minecraft uses in education and for humanitarian reasons (this was really nice), and some high-level information about programming and other technical issues. There is also some material on the other projects of Mojang, including Scrolls (and the related trademark fight against Bethesda -- legal fights are the bane of tech these days, so this was useful) and the elusive 0x10c.
On the negative side, although I was turned-off primarily by the low amount of interesting (new?) material, I will mention here the presentation. The book is edited by Paradox Books, who did less of a passable job in editing it: the timeline is all mixed up, the quality of English is rather poor, the translation of idiomatic Swedish expressions into English is incomprehensible, and the similes are often broken. For me, the most insensitive moment is when Arnroth picks up a quote from the Internet, comparing the ``hundreds of thousands, or rather millions of young game loving people wanting to express themselves and their gaming through videos'' to ``the lost boys of L.A.'' . Perhaps Thomas is not aware that, after Peter Pan, ``lost boys'' has become a term for refugees in Sudan, many of whom have been orphaned by war and also been forced to fight from an early age. Anyway, the presentation is very poor.
 Arnroth, Thomas (2013-06-26). A Year With Mojang: Behind the Scenes of Minecraft (Kindle Locations 185-186). Paradox Interactive. Kindle Edition.
The making of Prince of Persia is a continuation of Jordan Mechner's first memoir, The making of Karateka, covering the period from 1985 (the publicatThe making of Prince of Persia is a continuation of Jordan Mechner's first memoir, The making of Karateka, covering the period from 1985 (the publication of Karateka) to January 1993 (the aftershocks of licensing Prince of Persia for a large number of platforms). As for the first part of the memoir, there's a combination of Jordan's thoughts and feelings and game development, but this time Jordan is more mature and there's much about the actual business of making games. Plus, a traveling Jordan describes his adventures around the world (read: Europe) and his incursions into other media (read: script-writing and film-making).
Overall, I liked this second installment of Jordan's memoir way less then the first. I still enjoyed the game design, but reading such a personal memoir led me to start judging, and ... there's too much too much twisting around principles until ensuring the largest gain, too much misanthropy, too much of Jordan showing off I guess.
The design part is more mature than in The making of Karateka; after all, Prince of Persia is a much more refined game than Karateka.
Among the numerous bits and pieces of self-praise (really, Jordan!?):
Oddly enough, this makes me more psyched to do the new game. It reminded me why I’m good at this – of what I can do that others can’t, or won’t.
Mechner, Jordan (2011-10-14). The Making of Prince of Persia (p. 23). . Kindle Edition.
OK, I'm going to end this review here (I don't want to present the negative aspects in more detail), but there's so much in this book that I can still recommend it to everyone who cares about the birth of a medium -- the early days of game design. ...more
The making of Karateka is the memoir of Jordan Mechner (better known as the guy who made Prince of Persia). Chronicling the period 1982-1985, this booThe making of Karateka is the memoir of Jordan Mechner (better known as the guy who made Prince of Persia). Chronicling the period 1982-1985, this book starts when Jordan is about to start the design of Karateka and ends with the aftermath of its publication. (There's no doubt he will finish it, especially for 1980s gamers, so no spoilers in this description.)
Overall, I liked this book very much. It's not the best of writing, it's at times as superficial as a journal written only for yourself can be, and perhaps you may not like Jordan's personality (rather dark, very materialistic, and self-centered), but the journal sounds true, the depiction of life as a young student is funny, and overall the book makes me remember my own days creating games (not one as successful as Jordan's). The best part? The guy is 18, and bits and pieces of his logs sound like it; he's also a good game designer, even at this tender age.
I liked how Jordan picks apart his mood swings (expected from a Psych major, but even that is not so certain after a point):
I often quit now mid-game. Is it the effect of an achievement-oriented attitude (it’s not worth it if I can’t break my high score)? Is it the effect of playing similar games with the same themes, over and over again? Or is it me?
Mechner, Jordan (2012-11-27). The Making of Karateka (p.42-43). Kindle Edition.
There's also much about the psychology of creating and selling games, such as:
I wish I could work on the game like I did at the beginning — innocently, happily, without this stomach-churning anxiety and rush to get it finished, make it good, get it out, get rich off it.
Mechner, Jordan (2012-11-27). The Making of Karateka (p. 104). . Kindle Edition.
I enjoyed the numerous bits about game design, such as:
Most games just have a static view – PacMan, Asteroids, Space Invaders – that they keep for the whole game. But cinematic techniques have been used as far back as Lunar Lander – that game had not only tracking to follow your LEM, but also a cut to a close-up when you start to land. There have been subjective-POV games like Night Driver, Star Fire, Tail Gunner, Battlezone. But nobody’s really played up the cutting. Karateka is the first game to do cross-cutting.
Mechner, Jordan (2012-11-27). The Making of Karateka (p. 144). . Kindle Edition.
I've already mentioned what I dislike about this book. ...more
You is a coming-of-age book, described from the eyes of a boy in his thirties. However, this book is much more about the gaming industry: how games arYou is a coming-of-age book, described from the eyes of a boy in his thirties. However, this book is much more about the gaming industry: how games are produced, designed, developed, demoed, and advertised to millions. Overall, it was long and childish, but well-documented and interesting. Your choice, but there's also Ready Player One, Microserfs (but not other Douglas Coupland books), Gamers at Work, Reality is Broken, and Richard Bartle.
I don't think this book is about its story. This is why, spoiler alert, I can tell you that the story focuses on how the main protagonist learns about being a lead game designer and product manager---the big creative boss in charge with producing a game---for the company created by his high-school best-friends. In the process, he remembers everything, discovers himself, and falls once again inlove with his ... well, the girl he fancied throughout high-school. He also saves the company in the process.
The characters are also not something to be concerned about. They're mostly stick figures with gamer profiles: OCD, ADHD, you name it. But they can code and play.
The part about the gaming industry is good, but very long. Tens of pages about debugging are enough to make this reader cringe. Perhaps the highlight of this story element is the E3 demo, where the entire gaming world gathers to see the finished games of the entire industry; the context is well and realistically described, and the demo scene is memorable.
I found that the main strength of this book to be its quality of writing, which combines ingeniously the academic treatment of the topic (thorough, analytic, prescriptive) with the generally light flavor of the topics. Somehow, the authors of this book make enjoyable the reading of a comprehensive treatise on gamification. Perhaps a lesser achievement, but nonetheless important, is this book's ability to really collect into one volume all the necessary knowledge for understanding and starting to use gamification. In particular, the authors have added numerous use cases to learn from, to the already known theory.
TODO + background on use of gamification + related theories, especially serious games + asks the right questions, including 'which gaming technique(s) toTODO + background on use of gamification + related theories, especially serious games + asks the right questions, including 'which gaming technique(s) to use for a particular learning objective/player type/player skill level/etc.?' - the author spend most of the time on computer-based gamification - many assumptions and unproven claims, rapaciously about effectiveness of one technique or another. in particular, Knapp favors narrative, complex story, and role-playing. how would one teach Computer Organization or Java Programming 101 focusing on these, one can only speculate... - the chapter by Nathan Kapp and to some extent also the other 'invited chapters' are rather weak, unacademic, and chaotic...more
Valve's Handbook for New Employees is a wonderful company work statement in an extremely competitive industry (computers, software design and engineerValve's Handbook for New Employees is a wonderful company work statement in an extremely competitive industry (computers, software design and engineering, entertainment software, computer and video games). Valve is a leader of the PC gaming industry, with its own excellent games (Half-Life, Portal), great support for modders (Counter-Strike) and the indie community, and innovations in the gaming industry as a whole (esp. distribution channels such as Steam for PC games). With this booklet, Valve presents a refreshing statement of how big business in creative industries can be organized. The main message is that a flat organization, carefully managed and with a focus on top individuals who may be friends or rel, can deliver excellent results. A must-read for startups in the gaming industry....more
Gamers at Work is a collection of interviews with top people from the video and computer gaming industry. The interviews are loosely structured aroundGamers at Work is a collection of interviews with top people from the video and computer gaming industry. The interviews are loosely structured around the establishment and challenges of gaming studios, the creative processes, and the struggle to remain afloat as the industry changes.
I really loved this book. The people interviewed here are usually heads of game studios or leads of the creative part of the business, but otherwise span a broad range of interests, backgrounds, and capability. There are many excellent interviews, including of: Wild Bill Stealy (the business side of MicroProse); Tony Goodman (the process guy at Ensemble Corp/Studios and Robot Entertainment); Feargus Urquhart (great interview on processes, Interplay/Fallout, etc.); John Smedley (EverQuest); Lorne Lanning (a bit shambolic but overall great stuff, Oddworld); Tobi Saulnier (client-centric game developer); and Christopher Weaver (Bethesda Softworks, The Elder Scrolls + professor at MIT).
Here are a few things I've learned: * The gaming industry is only for people who love games. The high risk and relatively low return of this hit-driven market are otherwise not worth the personal investment. * The size of a sustainable studio is 40-50 people, with 3-5 production pipelines active at all times. Anything above 100 people is bound to crash as the industry twists and turns. * Gaming studios must consider all possible valorization channels, including leveraging their technology in serious gaming and technical simulators, and doing games that extend somebody else's franchise. * Intellectual Property (IP) really counts. Building and populating entire worlds is preferable to creating small games that are independent of each other. * Building strong portfolios and strong IP protect a studio from poor contracts from publishers. * The game designers and producers rarely win as much as publishers and other channel owners. * Publishers and distributors have a stranglehold on industry and even creativity: their choice decides the going of the industry. * Indie gaming is tough, running a studio is tougher. Giants like EA and Sony Online Entertainment produce mostly games in long franchise lines. * etc. etc. etc.
Overall, a must-read for anyone interested in the gaming industry, especially wannabe indie game developers....more