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Current Topic: Games

The Chess Master and the Computer
Topic: Games 8:18 am EST, Jan 26, 2010

Garry Kasparov:

In 1996 I narrowly defeated the supercomputer Deep Blue in a match. Then, in 1997, IBM redoubled its efforts -- and doubled Deep Blue's processing power -- and I lost the rematch in an event that made headlines around the world. The result was met with astonishment and grief by those who took it as a symbol of mankind's submission before the almighty computer. Others shrugged their shoulders, surprised that humans could still compete at all against the enormous calculating power that, by 1997, sat on just about every desk in the first world.

It was the specialists -- the chess players and the programmers and the artificial intelligence enthusiasts -- who had a more nuanced appreciation of the result.

Although we still require a strong measure of intuition and logic to play well, humans today are starting to play more like computers.

From The World in 2009:

Someone once accused Craig Venter of playing God.

His reply was, "We're not playing."

Nicholas Carr:

Over the past few years I've had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn't going -- so far as I can tell -- but it's changing. I'm not thinking the way I used to think.

Freeman Dyson:

When children start to play with real genes, evolution as we know it will change forever.


Like so much else in our technology-rich and innovation-poor modern world, chess computing has fallen prey to incrementalism and the demands of the market. Brute-force programs play the best chess, so why bother with anything else? Why waste time and money experimenting with new and innovative ideas when we already know what works? Such thinking should horrify anyone worthy of the name of scientist, but it seems, tragically, to be the norm. Our best minds have gone into financial engineering instead of real engineering, with catastrophic results for both sectors.

David Golumbia:

For at least one hundred years and probably much longer, modern societies have been built on the assumption that more rationality and more techne (and more capital) are precisely the solutions to the extremely serious problems that beset our world and our human societies. Yet the evidence that this is not the right solution can be found everywhere.

Greenspan and Waxman:

"In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working," Mr. Waxman said. "Absolutely, precisely," Mr. Greenspan replied.

Alan Kay:

If the children are being instructed in the pink plane, can we teach them to think in the blue plane and live in a pink-plane society?

The Chess Master and the Computer

A Common Nomenclature for Lego Families
Topic: Games 8:30 am EST, Nov 19, 2009

Giles Turnbull:

Lego nomenclature is essential for family Lego building. Every family, it seems, has its own set of words for describing particular Lego pieces.

And the words they use (mostly invented by the children, not the adults) are likely to be different every time. But how different? And what sort of words?

Hence, a survey.

David Nye:

We use technology to shape our world, yet we think little about the choices we are making.

Brian Silverman:

The Mindstorms kits, and most other Lego kits, are configured largely to allow customers to build the specific models shown on the boxes. PicoCricket, on the other hand, is about giving kids a chance to build objects out of their imaginations, then program them with interesting behaviors.

Cynthia Rettig:

The Lego dream has been a persistent favorite among a generation or more of programmers who grew up with those construction toys. Unfortunately, however, software does not work as Legos do.


Techies love stupid nomenclature.

Dan Schneider:

Postmodernists believe language is a circular self-referential trap, while pragmatists believe it lends insight into what reality is. Steven Pinker's book seems to posit that that is a false dichotomy, not because both claims are false, but because both are fundamentally true.

A Common Nomenclature for Lego Families

Evil Lair: On the Architecture of the Enemy in Videogame Worlds
Topic: Games 8:20 am EDT, May 20, 2009

Jim Rossignol:

Game developers are unconstrained in their designs for the enemy. Such designers will be punished with poor sales, not death in the gulag, if their designs for the overlord are unpopular. They could go anywhere with the homes of evildoers: halls of electric fluorescence, palaces carved from corduroy, suburban back yards.

And yet, in spite of this freedom, most videogame designers choose to make a definite connection to familiar – or real-world – architecture. Perhaps they think that the evil lair must emanate evil. There's surely no room for ambiguity with videogame evildoers: the gamer needs to know that it's okay to aim for hi-score vengeance.

Paul Graham, from last year's best-of:

Don't just not be evil. Be good.

Bill Joy, from years ago:

We are on the cusp of perfection of extreme evil -- an evil whose possibility spreads well beyond weapons of mass destruction.

Robert Draper, for GQ:

Donald Rumsfeld has always answered his detractors by claiming that history will one day judge him kindly. But as he waits for that day, a new group of critics—his administration peers—are suddenly speaking out for the first time. What they’re saying? It isn’t pretty.

Evil Lair: On the Architecture of the Enemy in Videogame Worlds

D&D Test Drive
Topic: Games 7:33 am EDT, Apr 30, 2009

How's free? Does free sound good?

Explore 4th Edition Now.

Download the Quick-Start Rules and H1: Keep on the Shadowfell — and Let the Adventure Begin.

From the archive:

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition is going to change just about everything for the dice-rolling set.

I'm just, like, in his arms, all snug. I'm his first ever girlfriend and we've been together 18 months. My ideal night with him is playing Dungeons & Dragons on Xbox or painting Warhammer figurines.

D&D Test Drive

Dave Arneson, Co-Creator of Dungeons and Dragons, Dies at 61
Topic: Games 8:40 am EDT, Apr 13, 2009

Dave Arneson, one of the co-creators of the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy game and a pioneer of role-playing entertainment, died after a two-year battle with cancer, his family said Thursday. He was 61.

From a year ago:

Gary Gygax, a pioneer of the imagination who transported a fantasy realm of wizards, goblins and elves onto millions of kitchen tables around the world through the game he helped create, Dungeons & Dragons, died Tuesday at his home in Lake Geneva, Wis. He was 69.

From the archive:

Thirty-one years after the invention of Dungeons & Dragons, the original role-playing game remains the most popular and financially successful brand in the adventure gaming industry.

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition is going to change just about everything for the dice-rolling set.

I'm just, like, in his arms, all snug. I'm his first ever girlfriend and we've been together 18 months. My ideal night with him is playing Dungeons & Dragons on Xbox or painting Warhammer figurines.

Dave Arneson, Co-Creator of Dungeons and Dragons, Dies at 61

Is it Art?
Topic: Games 7:23 am EST, Jan  5, 2009

John Lanchester:

From the economic point of view, this was the year video games overtook music and video, combined. As a rule, economic shifts of this kind take a while to register on the cultural seismometer; and indeed, from the broader cultural point of view, video games barely exist.

There is no other medium that produces so pure a cultural segregation as video games, so clean-cut a division between the audience and the non-audience. Video games have people who play them, and a wider public for whom they simply don’t exist. Their invisibility is interesting in itself, and also allows interesting things to happen in games under the cultural radar.

A common criticism of video games made by non-gamers is that they are pointless and escapist, but a more valid observation might be that the bulk of games are nowhere near escapist enough.

The trouble with these games – the majority of them – isn’t that they are maladapted to the real world, it’s that they’re all too well adapted. The people who play them move from an education, much of it spent in front of a computer screen, full of competitive, repetitive, quantifiable, measured progress towards goals determined by others, to a work life, much of it spent in front of a computer screen, full of competitive, repetitive, quantifiable, measured progress towards goals determined by others, and for recreation sit in front of a computer screen and play games full of competitive, repetitive, quantifiable, measured progress towards goals determined by others. Most video games aren’t nearly irresponsible enough.

If I had to name one high-cultural notion that had died in my adult lifetime, it would be the idea that difficulty is artistically desirable.


Bosses complain that after a childhood of being coddled and praised, Net Geners demand far more frequent feedback and an over-precise set of objectives on the path to promotion (rather like the missions that must be completed in a video game).

From the archive:

If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.

Is it Art?

The Speed Camera Pimping Game
Topic: Games 10:57 am EST, Dec 22, 2008

As a prank, students from local high schools have been taking advantage of the county's Speed Camera Program in order to exact revenge on people who they believe have wronged them in the past.

Students duplicate the license plates by printing plate numbers on glossy photo paper, using fonts from certain websites that "mimic" those on Maryland license plates. They tape the duplicate plate over the existing plate on the back of their car and purposefully speed through a speed camera. The victim then receives a citation in the mail days later.

County Council President Phil Andrews said that this could hurt the integrity of the Speed Camera Program.

From the archive:

Typography is not simply a frou-frou debate over aesthetics orchestrated by a hidden coterie of graphic-design nerds.

There is, however, some reality to the idea that the U.S. is seeking "administrative revenge" against this person for demonstrating that their security is weak.

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

The Speed Camera Pimping Game

Topic: Games 7:27 am EST, Nov 17, 2008

Now you can be the protagonist of the petroleum era: explore and drill around the world, corrupt politicians, stop alternative energies and increase the oil addiction. Be sure to have fun before the resources begin to deplete.


wipEout HD
Topic: Games 7:32 am EDT, Oct  1, 2008

Now available:

Get ready to race at blazing speeds and experience futuristic, adrenaline-filled racing action! The iconic anti-gravity racing franchise is back and moving at light speed with WipEout® HD. Delivering 1080p High Definition visuals running at a breathtaking 60 frames per second, WipEout HD features a selection of the best tracks taken from previous versions of the wipEout franchise, meticulously crafted and fully reworked to showcase the processing power of PS3. Features eight racing teams, classic tracks from previous Wipeout releases, five gameplay modes, plus 8-player online racing and Trophy support, all set to a hard-hitting techno soundtrack of nine fully-licensed music tracks remixed in Dolby™ 5.1 surround sound.

wipEout HD

The NeoCube
Topic: Games 7:17 am EDT, Jul 21, 2008

The NeoCube is composed of 216 individual high-energy sphere magnets, which can be formed into BILLIONS of shapes and patterns. It is highly addictive and only available at

The NeoCube

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