Chess as a Social Metaphor in Italy

Most games (solitaire excepted) are, by definition, social activities — none more so than chess:

Knights Templar Playing Chess, 1283 AD

For some time chess was viewed by the Roman Catholic Church as a “path to perdition”. Eventually the church began to change their tune on chess and viewed it as a propaganda gold mine as opposed to a evil pass time. Specifically, “Jacobus de Cessolis used chess as the basis for a series of sermons” (Yalom 68). By this time chess was no longer considered a game of war due to the inclusion of non-warlike pieces such as the king and queen. This allowed Cessolis took advantage of this new paradigm to convey chess as an allegory for society. Using the chess board to demonstrate an ideal state Cessolis preached of a “social pyramid” with the king on top and the peasants at the bottom.

Michael Downing @

Image: Knights Templar playing Chess (1283 AD). Biblioteca del Monasterio de El Escorial, ms T. I 6, fol. 25. Patrimonio Nacional, Spain. Via Wikipedia.

Post Script: mod for Half-Life 2

Post Script is an interesting new mod-in-progress for Half-Life 2 by Lewis Denby:

Post Script: mod for Half-Life 2

Post Script is an episodic, interactive narrative, exploring a set of characters as they look back on the second end of the world.

A post-post-apocalyptic tale of humanity and inhumanity, Post Script examines the nature of society, how it shapes us and how it’s shaped by us. It asks how we respond to astonishing hostility and unexpected love. It raises big questions, but there’s a decent chance it won’t get round to answering them. It is, vestigially, a series of very short computer games, in which you do a lot of walking around and occasionally solve a lightweight puzzle.

Lewis Denby

– Via

Writing for Video Game Genres: From FPS to RPG

From a recent book review at Slashdot:
Writing for Video Game Genres: From FPS to RPG

The third book in a pseudo-trilogy, Writing for Video Game Genres: From FPS to RPG, offers advice from 21 experts in the field of video game writing, pulled from the ranks of the IGDA’s Game Writers Special Interest Group and wrangled together by editor Wendy Despain.

… The book covers everything from FPS to RPG, from MMO to ARG, and the entirety of alphabet soup in-between. Each chapter covers the particular challenges of writing for one particular genre, and generally offers specific tips on how to overcome those challenges when writing for that genre.


Available at

Avatar Machine: augmented reality

Avatar Machine is a VR-helmet system which allows you to view the real world as a third-person game:

The virtual communities created by online games have provided us with a new medium for social interaction and communication. Avatar Machine is a system which replicates the aesthetics and visuals of third person gaming, allowing the user to view themselves as a virtual character in real space via a head mounted interface. The system potentially allows for a diminished sense of social responsibility, and could lead the user to demonstrate behaviors normally reserved for the gaming environment.

Marc Owens

Via BoingBoing.

Gravity Bear unveils social fighting Facebook game

Facebook is enjoying considerable popularity as an applications development platform.

For example, Battle Punks:

Battle Punks

Game startup Gravity Bear is unveiling its first original game for Facebook today. Battle Punks is a “3-D social game” that will debut this holiday season.

The game is set in a variety of fantasy locations, combining in-depth game design with social networking. As such, it’s one of a new generation of Facebook games that aims to deliver a better experience than the simpler two-dimensional games such as FarmVille that dominate Facebook today. Players create avatars and enter them into combat against others in a bid to become the scrappiest fighter in a kingdom.

Dean Takahashi @ VentureBeat

This is interesting:

“The game will debut with analytics technology from SQLstream, which measures activity in an app and will allow Gravity Bear to tweak the game to suit the tastes of users.”

Gamers imposing permanence on their decisions

“There’s been a lot of interest in Far Cry 2 recently surrounding some gamers’ attempts to impose permanence on all their decisions. Is that a valid way of making story meaningful? Does it clash with game structures like reloading?”

To summarise, if you guys aren’t aware, I was having a discussion online about the reliance on traditional narrative techniques, trying to impose notions of irreversibility and stuff like that on players in order to make their actions more meaningful. And I was saying I don’t think we should do that, I think we should actually embrace the idea that games are reversible and malleable and fragmented and parallel and all of these sorts of things that other media aren’t ….

Death Of The Author @

Via L.B Jeffries: The Merits of Linear Narrative @ popmatters

Space Garbace Scow (should be a game!)

This isn’t game related. Space garbage is a serious problem, a life-and-death problem. Bob Cringely has given the matter some serious thought:

We have to gather the stuff and bring it back to Earth. But how?

I propose a space garbage scow.Space Garbage Scow

My garbage scow would use a very fine net to capture the debris and hold it. The net could be built from kevlar, but this week I’m making everything from carbon nanotubes, thanks, so that’s what we’ll use. Nanotubes have the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any material and would allow us to make a very large, very light weight net. Our point here is to make the net light rather than strong, since our capture speeds will be low and the lack of gravity ought to make it easy to keep the junk tethered together. The point of making it strong, then, is so it can be light enough to be big enough to maybe gather all the junk — all 18,000 pieces — into a single scow.

I imagine a seine purse-style net, if you know your commercial fishing. Launch the net into an inclined polar orbit generally higher than the space junk to be harvested. The polar orbit will ensure that eventually the scow will go over every spot on the Earth as the planet rotates below, but it also means the scow will eventually cross the path of every piece of space junk.

Here’s where we need an algorithm and a honking big computer, because this is a 3-D geometry problem with more than 18,000 variables. Our algorithm determines the most efficient path to use for gathering all 18,000 pieces of space junk.

I haven’t yet derived this algorithm, but I have some idea what it would look like. We’d start in a high orbit, above the space junk, because we could trade that altitude for speed as needed, simply by flying lower, trading potential energy for kinetic.

Dragging the net behind a little unmanned spacecraft my idea would be to go past each piece of junk in such a way that it not only lodges permanently in the net, but that doing so adds kinetic energy (hitting at shallow angles to essentially tack like a sailboat off the debris). But wait, there’s more! You not only have to try to get energy from each encounter, it helps if — like in a game of billiards or pool — each encounter results in an effective ricochet sending the net in the proper trajectory for its next encounter. Rinse and repeat 18,000 times.

It won’t always be possible, of course, to gain energy from each encounter, but that’s why we start in a higher orbit, so as energy is inevitably lost it can be replenished by moving to a lower orbit.

By the same token I think we would logically start with smaller bits of space junk so the net would gain mass steadily over time, then do the same again at each lower altitude. Eventually the net would have corralled hundreds of tons of debris, carrying it down into the atmosphere where atmospheric friction would eventually burn it all up in a spectacular visual display that would create a thin ring of fire all around the Earth.

It’s a crazy idea, sure, but it could work.

— Robert X. Cringely: Tossed in Space
— Via Slashdot

Then again, it should be a game. This is exactly the kind of situation where a game programmer could step forward and contribute to the solution of a real-world problem.

Somebody should make a flight simulator for the world’s first virtual Space Garbage Scow, the S.S. Cringely.

I’ll award the Handy Vandal’s Honorary Certificate of Merit to anyone who makes such a game!

I grew up on Asteroids … driving a garbage scow through a well-mapped volume of near-Earth space should be child’s play, compared to the random hazards and hostile UFOs of Asteroids.

Rushkoff on creating an alternate reality game


Douglas Rushkoff talks about his participation in the making of Exoriare:

I’ve written and even taught a whole lot about interactive narrative over the years, but rarely have the chance to play with this stuff. So last year, when a Canadian games company rang to see if I’d be interested in collaborating with them on developing stories for a giant, multi-dimensional gaming universe, I jumped. It was like I was being given the chance to live out Jack Kirby’s dream of world-building with Robert Anton Wilson’s vision of multiple and overlapping perspectives.

The early results are finally making it online as the preview of a graphic novel, which spills out into the trailhead of at least one Alternate Reality Game, and also comprises the back story of the coming videogame series. This is a big big universe – a giant war for the future of humanity, of course – with maybe one overall timeline but many different pathways through the material. So people might follow my characters through a series of graphic novels, and learn something about them that they can then use in the games, or an artifact they find in the game might help them decode something in the comics. And even the ARG that people are beginning to play right now – through which they are “finding the others,” and forging coalitions with other gamers in their own parts of the world to solve certain challenges – is a set-up for the bigger game, where these larger groups will be responsible for various aspects of the coming war.

The object of the game right now is for the players to build the “Darknet,” an alternative network through which a global resistance can operate, and people can begin to piece together why NASA scientists are being rounded up and what the hell happened over the skies in Los Angeles.

Douglas Rushkoff @ Boing Boing

From the Boing Boing comments section:

“Looks absolutely brilliant. I see that Telefilm Canada is on board. Interesting. I never knew they dealt with video game production.”

StarCraft AI Competition

StarCraft AI Competition

The Expressive Intelligence Studio at UC Santa Cruz will be hosting a StarCraft competition:

This competition enables academic researchers to evaluate their AI systems in a robust commercial RTS environment. The final matches will be held live with commentary. Exhibition matches will also be held between skilled human players and the top performing bots.

Getting Started

The competition will use StarCraft Brood War 1.16.1. Get it here

Bots for StarCraft can be developed using the Broodwar API, which provides hooks into StarCraft and enables the development of custom AI for StarCraft. A C++ interface enables developers to query the current state of the game and issue orders to units.

  • Instructions for setting up the environment are available here.
  • An introduction to the Broodwar API is available here.
  • Instructions for building a bot that communicates with a remote process are available here.
  • There is also a FAQ listing common issues.

Tournament rules are available here

[Full article: StarCraft AI Competition]

Via SlashDot