Books: February 2017

Ryan Holiday has a great monthly-ish reading list. If you don’t already subscribe, stop what you’re doing and click. I’m going to try to get at least one idea from each book down and link them between them in as interesting ways. Maybe helpful for you. Maybe not. Remembrance for future connectivity is the goal.

This month’s theme music: My Favorite Things by John Coltrane

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural by James Randi
First on Scott’s Persuasion Reading list, and a super quick read. People can believe anything. People can convince people of anything. Superstition is built into us at a foundational level which we simply can’t shake. Surely an examination of nearly anything on, say, Facebook would convince you of that, yet you simply don’t realize how much you accept on faith as well. Something things just flow in. It’s your job to police the filter, and toss out what should be in your brain. An easier task said than done.

They Got It Wrong: History: All the Facts that Turned Out to be Myths by Emma Marriot
Second on Scott’s list, and another quick read. As in the first, not hugely substantiated, but consistent with facts and direct experiences that I’ve had actually going to the places mentioned. Touchiest one was related to the Holocaust which broadens ones understanding of where, and at who’s hand, most Jews died. Historical stories are created out of whole cloth to convince people, not unlike superstitions.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
I’ve tried to read this book, and stopped several times. It’s brutal. The audiobook is the way to go. Primary Source account of concentration camps as a Jew from an astute observer. You simply cannot understand what the human organism is able to normalize until you make it through to the end of this book. A much more serious book than They Got It Wrong, which serves as an interesting contrast as events occur completely outside of Viktor Frankl’s sphere. That fact by no means diminishes either the historical facts (as much as history can be factual), nor Viktor Frankl’s experiences and insights. There’s more to this book and I need to work my way through it again.

God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment by Scott Adams
A record of a two conversations which, like links in a chain, drive home a series of thoughts about who we are as humans and where we’re going, even if we’re not paying attention to the fact that we’re moving at all. Fertile idea generator. As an example, here’s the one that’s stuck with me (and the riskiest of the lot): Religion is how we, as a species, program our System 1, while suppressing our System 2 as necessary, for the persistence of our tribe. When we choose a religion, even if it’s no-religion (i.e. atheism), that’s because our System 1 accepts it that programming, and rigs our System 2 to think it’s our own idea – our own “free will.”

The Way of Zen by Alan Watts
A subtle magic trick in the form of a historical expose of Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zen which, along the way, causes the listener to internalize precepts of Zen in ways. There’s persuasion going on here in a major way, but I doubt you’d register it. The only way I spotted it was to notice how my thoughts changed in response to events. Granted this is my third time through the work, and I doubt that the written version would have had any effect at all. Going deeper on the why of the Koan teaching strategy lead to the insight about God’s Debris above.

The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawne Coyne & Steven Pressfield
If you work with stories, this is a book for you. Full stop. As you read, read the other non-fiction books he references, in particular Story by Robert McKee. How to disassemble a story, look at the component pieces, and verify proper functioning. Highly analytical. A way to generate feedback about the quality of your work. Ideas connect with Mastery by Robert Greene. It’s an example of how to rigorously define compliance with, and aberration from, expectations and conventions of written stories. Greene uses John Coltrane’s jazz as an example, this is the analog for writing.

The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Five Novels and One Story by Douglas Adams
I finally get it. I don’t like this book. I understand why now. You see, it wasn’t written as a single work at a single time, instead it’s been reworked and rewritten at least six times, across many mediums, to the point where it no longer feels like a book to me. It’s meticulously crafted watch. Everything, absolutely everything, has been polished, stripped, and reworked to the point where the whole book ticks along with too much rigidity and perfection for me to find it funny and entertaining. There’s simply no surprise.

Going Rogue (Spells, Swords, & Stealth) (Volume 3) by Drew Hayes
This series hits it’s stride in book three. There’s three ensembles of actors in the story and the first two books in the series suffered, because the balance of focus wasn’t sufficient. Drew Hayes gets it right in this book. This was the first fictional work that I applied concpets from Story Grid to as I was reading. This is an example of where the first two books really do need to be reworked, as it’s a long slog for readers to get to this point and truly enjoy the aggregate work. The only reason why I made it as far as I did was because I used to DM Dungeons & Dragon games, not a large group of people, and a main character is a Dungeon Master.  Yeah, I know I just said what I said about Hitchhiker’s, so I suppose the trick is doing it in a less than perfect way.

Working my way back through Mastery by Robert Greene, and Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kehneman. I really do love re-reading books with complexity, because there’s so much to gain. If you didn’t get the System 1/2 reference from above, read Thinking Fast & Slow. Mandatory. I’m also tracking down Scott Adams’ Persuasion Reading list, so more from that next month.



  • One must first attract attention in order to be able to convey a message
  • People are inherently curious and will often make great effort to pursue and learn about something that seems mysterious
  • People respond to things that are big, bright, and unusual
  • You learn the most when you have no idea what you are doing
  • Jobs that at first might seem boring often turn out to be quite interesting
  • If something works well it doesn’t really matter that it might be old
  • A Sperry antiaircraft searchlight is an outstanding conversation starter
  • Getting people to show up is half the battle
  • Don’t be shy. If you don’t engage people you have no hope of making a sale
  • In naming a company or service, it’s better to be simple and descriptive rather than clever and confusing
  • If you don’t pay close attention to all the details, things will explode – Alexander Isley

Just reading a list of wisdom, even with pithy and fun anecdotes, doesn’t sink in. The knowledge just flows by and is not absorbed. Yet set within the context of his story and it does. See for yourself: click and read.

This isn’t new. Try getting through Mediations after reading Letters to a Stoic. Much of the knowledge inherent in Meditations is unavailable to anyone other than Marcus Aurelius. This is especially noticeable when contrasted with Seneca’s narrative style, even in the one-sided and partial form that remains.

It’s amazing how much more effective a narrative, even a short one, is at passing along a knowledge – a thought.

That’s Stonehenge.

Imagine the stories told against the backdrop of towering granite, a starry night, and a roaring bonfire…

We do not know the words spoken, yet they still resonate in our bones.

I wager this would be a good read: Graphic Content: True Stories from Top Creatives

Warren Spector – Lecture 6 w/Marc “MAHK” LeBlanc

Marc “MAHK” LeBlanc

Work History:

  • BlueSky/Looking Glass
  • Origin
    ** Ultima Underworld
    ** Underworld 2
    ** System Shock
    ** Flight Unlimited
    ** Terra Nova:Strike Force Centauri
  • Ion Storm
    ** Thief
    ** System Shock 2
    ** Deus Ex
    ** Thief 2
    ** Visual Concepts – Sports Games
    ** NFL 2K2, NBA 2K2, NCAA Football 2K3
  • Mind Control Software
    ** Oasis
    ** Field Commander
  • Casual Games
    ** Stomping Grounds
    ** Arrrrrr!
    Spector met him when he was finishing up his MIT Masters degree and play testing games.
    Teacher, Lecturer, Writer, SMoG (Secret Master of Gaming)

Question: “What in your background prepared you for a career in gaming?”

Only child. Didn’t play a lot of games as a little kid. Played D&D. Played in the cell of the original town hall from the 1850’s.

Question: “All board games all the time?”

A lot of digital games once I got access to a computer in elementary school. [Boy is this a familiar story. For him it was an Apple II, for me it was a Commodore Pet.]

Question: “Was that the point where you transition from being a player to creator?”

None of the teachers knew what they were doing with it. People could just take a pass and go use the computer for whatever. They had no comprehension. [One could argue that most still don’t…]

First game was a Steve Jackson melee thing (fight and run.) Lunar Lander clone.

“Steve Jackson makes such wonderful roleplaying games, but once you get to combat it slows way down. A 15 second combat encounter takes three hours to play. I’ve always felt they should be on the computer.” – Spector [Paraphrased]

Question: “Cutting classes. Making up games… MIT?”

Was a huge Infocom fan. Zork, Planetfall, etc. They were an MIT startup. Wrote a Infocom parser. Better than most of their games. His english language parser turned into his science project. Tried to get a job there, but never heard back from them. Got him interested in AI. At the time, everyone thought strong AI was just around the corner. Used a taxonomy based approach (animals have hair, etc.)

Went straight from Basic to Lisp. Learned Pascal, some C, Prolog, Smalltalk, basic Assembly. [Interestingly, that’s Paul Graham’s list of languages almost exactly.]

Question: “I had expectations as to what working with a team of MIT team of students would be like. I’ve noticed how well-rounded they were. (At least the ones I’ve interacted with.) How real-world oriented they were – entrepreneurial. Is there something about MIT’s approach which fosters that culture?”

The CS department is in the Engineering department, not Math at MIT. [Long diatribe on the specifics of x32 programming. Answer diverged from original question.] MIT does give you a lot of perspective into the hardware as opposed to a math-based ciriculum.

Question: “One thing that amazed me about Blue Sky/Looking Glass was how strong and coherent a culture it had. That’s not to say you guys all got along. Screaming at the top of people’s lungs very frequently. I want to talk about the toxic and inspiring culture of Looking Glass in a minute. Did you guys all meet at a dorm? Doug Church. Tim Felman. Dan Schimdt. James Fleming. Moby Games is your friend, go look them up.”

Here’s the real story: Paul Shawcross used to run a D&D game. Right around the time when that happening, one of the other player’s had an uncle who was starting a game company. Doug Church left MIT for there. Once that connection got made, a giant long chain of nepotism. Friends. Boyfriends. They just kept pulling in MIT people.

Question: “Many of you started working at Blue Sky. Ended up living at the same house.”

Three guys at Looking Glass had forgotten to buy the heating oil for the winter. When they move, they get a few more people. Grew to 10 folks. Became “the house of 10 dumb guys”.

“Saw my 1st chia-pet there. Had my first hot mountain dew with with marshmallows. (Hot molten dew.) All of the machines were named. Had to name my machine before you guys would talk to me.” – Spector
At MIT, all of the computers had DNS names with formal names. If you weren’t part of one of those clusters, you could name them as whatever you want. Themed names per group. Status symbol.

Question: “Looking Glass culture was toxic and inspired. An yet great games came out of that studio? Is that an accurate assessment of the culture?”

It was very youthful and energetic. Basically of a particular MIT campus culture. Everyone assumes you’re smart. Who did the work first got to decide how the work was done. It’s all about fighting to have your vision. Collective ambition.

“Driven by passion and respect. Incredible. Spent the last 15 years trying to recreate that somehow.” – Spector
Some of that has to do with the time and place. A group that size and inexperienced could make a game. It really was the college startup energy. Actual ones. Not just games.

It’s not just MIT. If you have an opinion you’re supposed to rant, march, protest. Very much a speak out and express your passion kind of culture. That’s the base culture required. [This is not modern day American college culture for damn sure. Way too much groupthink. Downright Orwellian. He’s disconnected ]

Question: “Read Warren Bennis: The Secrets of Great Groups. Have you left that behind personally? Are you still trying to find that passion that adversarial group?”

There’s more of a constant struggle to keep the well full when I was just a kid. Some stuff I would gladly leave behind. Better communicator now.

Question: “You’ve worked on a huge variety of games at many companies. Are you a big company guy? Little company?”

Right now, I’m a little company guy. Easier to find the energy and passion similar to Looking Glass. There’s little agility in today’s games. The production schedules are so long. Pipelines are so deep. The small games experience is pretty charming.

In small games there’s an embarrassments of riches.

Question: “For all of the roles you play, you’ve been a critical resource on the games you’ve worked on. Yet, you haven’t had that Project Director title.”

Brief period where he was the creative, technical, and everything lead on a project. 6-9 months for a prototype. They didn’t pick it up after.

Question: “What does that say about the nature of authorship. Does it mater?”

It’s a who care sort of thing. I’m not a game designer. I’m a game re-designer. Recognizes what’s good about a high concept and turns it into a little nugget of fun.

Question: “Do you think we’ve see a Mark LeBlanc game?”

Oasis is basically that. There is a AAA game he hopes to do some day. A lot like the prototype one canceled. The Game Design Workshop he runs at GDC is the Mark LeBlanc game.

Question: “You do game every system. Including life systems. That’s one of the qualities of all game designers.”

[Series of insider references.]

Question: “You have said many times: I hate the word fun.”

First, it’s vague. Second, it’s this trump card which allows people to turn their brain off. Ends discussions. It makes game design too mystical. Humanistic mystery. Limits our ability to think about games as purely objects of entertainment. Would a cathartic game be fun? [I wager he’s following this: Critical Proximity.]

Question: “Senet?”

One of the oldest games in the world. Played for 3 thousand years in Egypt. Precursor to Backgammon. Spaces on the board start to get names based on Egyptian gods. If you make it to the end you become one with Ra. Eventually this game takes on religious significance. People start playing this game to determine what their afterlife is going to be like. Every great Pharaoh has one of these games boards in their tomb to help them through it. The game goes from the daily life, two player, game to a religious, single player, game. Like the Tarot except with ultimate stakes.

Fun is an inadequate word to describe that.

Fun allows you to characterize things as kids stuff. Waste of time. Comics are going through the same thing.

Question: “You substituted a taxonomy for fun.”

The 8 kinds of fun. What you’re trying to make the player feel. As a straw man, he has a taxonomy of different ways this is done:

  1. Sensation
    Game as sense-pleasure
  2. Fantasy
    Game as make-believe
  3. Narrative Game as drama
  4. Challenge
    Game as obstacle course
  5. Fellowship
    Game as social framework
  6. Discovery
    Game as uncharted territory
  7. Expression
    Game as self-discovery
  8. Submission Game as pastime
    [Read the paper. It’s important. I should do a line-up with Koster’s Theory of Fun & Schell’s Lenses.]

Question: “Are there practical applications of it?”

It’s not part of a process. There’s no checklist for it.

“I think you’re underselling it.” – Spector
I’ve written design documents this way. It’s all about communication when you’re talking with other people about a game. Allows you to focus the conversation on a specific part.

Intuition and Intellect: Deconstructing the Design of Oasis

Oasis is a minesweeper variant with some city-building mechanisms.

Audience questions.

Question: Unintelligible.
Main indicator indicator of difficulty was the ratio of the city populations and the number of barbarians that were doing go come. Proportional to the difficulty level. Some map size tweaking to make the Oasis easier/harder to find, but was a minor effect. On higher difficult levels, there are time constraints. You don’t have enough time to do everything. Even on the lowest difficult level, we wanted that sense of impending doom, so went real-time instead of turn based.

Question: Unintelligible.
Games which inspired it: minesweeper and civilization. [Duh.]

Question: Unintelligible.
Original spark was being the anti-minesweeper. Every click in minesweeper is this moment of peril. Wanted to have the inverse.

Question: Tangible metrics to tune difficulty curve.
We did collect some high level metrics internally. Level # when you finished. Didn’t do rigorous measurement.

Question: Unintelligible.
Oasis compelled him to leave his previous job. Friends game him money to make a specific game.

Question: Unintelligible.
Specific to Oasis. One click failure possible with a plague city. Don’t do this sort of thing. “Bad click causes loss.”

Question: Paper prototyping.
Didn’t do it for this. Small game.

Question: Unintelligible.
Tuned around an arbitrary choice based on tech for board size.

Question: Unintelligible.
Publishers are pushing all kinds of stuff. Example given was a shared leaderboard system used by one of their publisher. Made the game worse. Channels gameplay. The sense of competition reduces freedom. External demands on the game aren’t necessary in the interest of the game.

Question: Unintelligible.
Why not publish the game in java. Didn’t feel comfortable with Java as a toolset. The Java that has a wide install base is really really crappy. [Can you say RuneScape or MineCraft?] At the time, the widely available version was Java 1.1. Thought they could make the game faster, prettier and better by doing it in C++. Partially because that was their background.

Question: Unintelligible.
People were making an uniformed choice about difficulty. Tutorial was mandatory. Unlocking required.

Game specific ancedotes

Ultima Underworld

Suggested that you should be able to a pole & a thread and make a fishing pole. Power of emergent gameplay.

Ultima Underworld 2

Only level design experience. Did the Ice Caves by holding down the mouse and scribbling.

System Shock

Some of his art might be in the game.

Question: “First time the team mushroomed and things got much more specialized. Someone owned the combat system. etc. How did that change the dynamics at Looking Glass?”
Made it more contentious. People had territory which could be horned in on.

It was the Microsoft Word user interface. Everything you could do had an interactive user interface element. Then Doom came out and then there was nothing on the screen. Perfect counter-example.

Flight Unlimited

Worked on stuff not related to the flight simulation. Credited as a pilot.

Terra Nova

Got kicked off it for saying that we’ve been working on this for 4 years and it’s not good yet. “He was bad influence and a naysayer.”

“In retrospect you were right.” – Spector


Underlying code system where designers could specify behavior. Didn’t write directly, simulated it. Gave designers tool-level flexibility. Class Type hierarchy-based.

“Hugely influential. Changed Ion Storm. Midway. Junction Point. When applied appropriately it’s a critical tool to getting that semi-emergent gameplay that we all know and love.” – Spector
Kind of stuff that everyone takes for granted now. [What the hell are they talking about? Don’t get it. Is this just straight OO inheritance or is it something else? There was a reference to Unreal, circa 2007, but it’s not their finite state machine stuff. Reference was between AI & Sound systems. Confusion all around.]

System Shock 2

Favorite the Looking Glass game because he contributed to the least creatively. Was purely technical. So it’s the one he can play as a “player” and enjoy.

Thief 2

Wrote one line of code

Sports Games

Everyone wanted to mimic television. Didn’t want to give you the in-stadium experience. More interested in ways that games are not like TV. Learned a ton.

[Spector is really dismissive of sports games. Why? Sports are as worth as any other game aren’t they? Again and again, turns his nose up at them. Well maybe not that far, maybe he’s just be melodramatic. I REALLY REALLY REALLY wish that more time had been spent on this point. I, for one, LOVED my interactions with EA Sports folks at all levels much more so than anyone from the EA Games side. Night-and-day.]


Took an $80,000 pay cut to make that game.

Field Commander (PSP)

Kind of “interestedly” architected piece of hardware to put it politely. Remote teams in three locations.

Stomping Grounds

Wanted it to be called Andrew Leaker’s Stomping Grounds


Was procrastinating writing code for a different multiplayer game. Found a tool to hook up multiple mice to a computer. Made a bunch of prototype games based on that idea. Cute little game. Should do on-line multiplayer to make it an actual games.

Warren Questions

Question: “Board Games. Electronic Games. How much translates from one to the other?”

Board Games => Electronic Games all of it. They’re all games. Game design is design within constraints. Wants to do a game design session with the NFL to work on the overtime rules. Would want to start a sports league playing basketball using the original rules and then evolve them forward every year to see if they go in a different direction.

Question: “How important is it to be able to program to become a game designer?”

To become a game designer it’s very important. Games in their formal structure are programs. You have to be able to get that procedural logic. Lots of psychology. “If you ask Gabe Newell that’s all you need to know.” Some engineering principals. Math (probability > game theory). Be someone with a broad educations in the classic seven liberal arts. [Warren reacted positivity to that last point.]

Question: “Favorite game”

Digital: Pikmin. XCom. Star Control 2. Archon [WOOT!]. Mail Order Monsters.

Board: Go. Tigris & Euphrates. Caliss.

Question: “Names and concepts. Reiner Knizia.”

Math PhD. Massively prolific. Lord of the Rings:The Confrontation.

Question: “Paul Neurath

Reason why I’m here.

Question: “Burtal Countdown”

Ritual which adds drama to counting up score at the end of the game. Chris Hacker named it as such.

Question: “Rock, Paper, Scissors”

One of the great mysteries of the human mind.

Question: “Simulation and Emulation”

I thrown an object and there is a Newtonian simulator behind it that carries the object through time and space.
Emulation is I click on a doorknob and the door objective, because there is a rule.

Question: “Embedded and Emergent Narrative”

Embedded is the traditional author narrative. Cut scene based.
Emergent is the gameplay and stories that the player find themselves because game designers were kind enough to allow to happen. A soup of events from which narratives can emerge.

Warren Spector – Lecture 4 w/Hal Barwood

Hal Barwood – Movies, Games, Stories



Question: “Where are you from?”

Dartmouth, NH. Got interested in movies early on because his father ran the movie theater. Citzen Kane.

Question: “What from your upbringing…make movies? or make games?”

Our house was filled with board games. Defeated by his brothers mercilessly. He couldn’t go into games when he was young because computers weren’t accessible. He didn’t really understand that games were designed and made by individual people. [Shades of Harvey Smith.]

Question: “You were designing games from when you were a kid. What kind?”

A kind of wooden box with a masonite box. Switches on each side for offense/defense. Football game. Plug jacks into various sockets completed circuits. Hit a bit button to indicate how successful a play way. Separate game board. His friends played it endlessly.

Biggest revelation of games ever experiences: “The inexhaustible depth of scissors, rock, paper. Been fascinated by that ever since.” Airplane, baseball games, etc.

“He’s right – that’s a really powerful idea” – Spector

Question: “How do you go from getting beaten in board games to designing sophisticated electronic games? Education?”

Liberals high school kid. Did well. Fascinated by the idea of robotics. The idea that computers could have it’s own personality. Interested in the fantasy of the thing. Not math or science particularly.

Question: “Did you go to college knowing you were going to do that? or film?”

Went in for the Engineering department. Decided once he got to the school to not do that. Went down painting and drawing path.

Question: “How did you get into animation?”

Puppet animations with stop-motion animation. 2D.

Question: “Brown University to Hollywood?”

Lucky. Did really well in college. About a year and half before he finished, he made some friends who were interested in movies. Made impressionistic documentaries. Interested in editing. One of his art teachers knew James Ivory. Applied to USC Film School. Got married & went to CA.

Question: “Your cohort had impressive people in it.”

List of names, 17:05. Included George Lucas.

Question: “You and Matthew Robbins?”

After film school, he did industrial films (Boeing, NASA). Training movies. Transitioned through commercials into writing.

Question: “Strange process? Don’t pass scripts back & forth.”

It took us 8 shots to get a movie made. 7 Scripts were thrown away. Working in a collaboration as a writer requires you to pay a lot more attention to how things get done. [Good prep for later game development.] Used 3×5 cards tacked on wall with headlines for what the scene was. X does Y to Z. They would shift them around based on the “Acts”. Our collaboration survived because we’d stay in the same room. Turn out the pages jointly.

Question: “That process sounds very close to what I’m doing right now on a game project.”

It’s pretty ordinary for people do it. Final Draft does this.

Question: “How did you get the gig? (Sugarland Express)”

“The tragedy of movies is your best ones doesn’t always get done.” Ripped from the headlines – but Hollywood-ized.

Question: “First thing you did on Sugarland Express was to make an ad?”

That’s the sort of thing you should be doing – otherwise you don’t understand your premise. There are some games which he’s made where he’s wish he did that.

Question: “To Bingo-land Express”

The movie industry is small. You meet a lot of people. Wanted material which could appeal to black audience. His one adaptation from books. He did lots of outside research.

Question: “MacArthur?”

We spent a year doing research. We needed to do it, because it was supposed to be reasonably factual.

Question: “Movies are getting bigger, up to Close Encounters without credit?”

Only 6 movies have his name on them, but he’s contributed to over 30. Better than average. Steve Spielberg had a huge hit in Jaws, so there was no saying no. Helped fix Steve’s script. Example: added Devil’s Tower to the movie. Fixed a bunch of problems. Climax is a moment of wonder and awe, but there is no drama or conclusion. Their idea of putting drama in was adding the return the child at the end. Mash potato scene.

Traded a percentage of the movie for not getting the credit.

Question: “Corvette Summer?”

The idea that someone is interested in Corvette Summer is so flattering. I don’t know how to respond…

Question: “You were the writer and you produced with your partner. How did you decide which role you’d each take?”

It goes back to film school, where he didn’t take the directing course, so he figured he shouldn’t do that. His partner (Mathew) went to film school expressly for that purpose. Ego wasn’t an issue.

Question: “How did you get Mark Hamill?”

It’s an original. Teen age quest movie. Original version very brutal. It was odd any way you think about it. Studio got nervous about how rough it was and he knew Mark through Lucas.

“I about wrote my dissertation on coming of age movies. It’s an under appreciate movie. You should watch it.” -Spector

Question: “Speaking of not particularly under appreciated movies, Drayonslayer. I’m doing what I’m doing because of 7 voyages of Sinbad and Ray Harris (unintelligible)?”

His acolytes worked on my movie.

“Stuff going on about religion. Oppression. Neat stuff.”
Remember that we had a president not quite as wonderful as our current president but doing stuff. Richard Nixon.

“The depth is there. The effects. They were over the top incredible.”
All I can say is I wish I had CGI. Took a lot of time on the set. There is nothing as badly behaved as a rubber dragon. It’s amazing how unlike photographs that movies are. Looking at discrete frames, everything is blurred. When doing animations, you need to worry about this to avoid strobes (i.e. old Disney animations.) The inking and painting would be done in such a way to produce those blurs. [Lots of film technical stuff here which doesn’t connect for me.]

Question: “You seemed 20 years ahead of your time. A film about biological contamination?”

I wish I had more money to get to where we wanted to be. Had $5million not $20million. It was a movie about an chemical which makes people crazy.

Question: “One more film question. In that 1975 interview, you talked about a movie called Clearwater?”

Post apocalyptic setting. Oregon. Group gets together and rebuilds a steam engine and goes out exploring.
Did you ever think about making that a game. 10 years before Road Warrior, it was Road Warrior with a train. (One of Hal’s favorite movies.) Almost got made. Cancelled because of money.

“Sounds like a perfect setting for a game.” – both.

Question: “After a while digits became more attractive than sprockets and now I’m a game guy. Actual quote. How?”

Epiphany moment on set of Dragonslayer. Didn’t own a computer, but did exist. He had a HP-41c calculator. [YEAH!] He found it more it more interesting to program it to play “Hunt a Wumpus” [DOUBLE YEAH!] than watch the filming of an elaborate scene with fire, villagers, and tons of action. He realized if that was really true, he was in the wrong business.

10 years later he went to work for LucasArts.

He didn’t realize that he should drop everything and try to get into the game business. He got slowed down by making another movie and didn’t transition.

Question: “You worked on two games as an amateur?”

Apple IIs were pretty slow. Exactly 1MHz. Shortest instruction were 3-4 cycles which meant about a quarter of a million things each frame. [Precise technical detail. Interesting. Don’t recall similar detail in movie discussion except maybe in reference to animation.] He knew Basic and learned 6502 assembly language. Made a tile based game – Space Snatchers, entirely in assembly.

Question: “Did the guys at LucasFilm know what you were unto?”

They sort of did. Because of Lucas, he got to know Steve Arnold (2nd guy who ran LucasFilm Games.) He also got to know people who worked there. [Dream Job technique.] They knew he’d done something so when they needed someone they went for him.

Question: “India Jones was an adventure game. In some ways straight forward, but it introduced one major innovation was the pick your play style?”

Originally a suggestion of his collaborator Noah Falstien. He went off to go do other projects, leaving him to hold that 3-path bag. That cost about 6 months of his life. He loved doing it but it was really hard.

Another innovation, mini-games. Whole bunch of them. They’d done one before, but added many other activities, not just puzzles.

Lucas had developed a phobia about any of his characters getting killed. If Indy couldn’t actually die, then there wouldn’t be any risk, so they did that. “Complete violation of the house rules.” [Good for him. They strangled creativity.]

Question: “Were you involved in the action version?”

No. First game in 256 colors with voice.

Question: “Did you have a sense that LucasArts were at a golden age?”

I thought it was great. That was wonderful. That was then, this is now. We all believe in adventure games in those days and did our best to advance the state of the art. Design seminars. Don’t see that going on quite the way it did then.

SCUM was the underlying engine developed 3 or 4 projects earlier.

Question: “What do you mean by adventure game?”

I think of a story. Driven by a story. The task of the player is to open up that story and to allow it to proceed by solving puzzles.

Question: “It seemed at some point the form stopped evolving. People tend to not make them any more.”

Truth is, Indiana Jones is the only adventure game I ever did. Action and RPG games aren’t adventure games. Most of the other stuff is what what I call action adventure. [Movie storytelling background coming through again…] Story elements which are very strong, with a coherent world – you can shoot the shit out of a bunch of bad guys.

Rules of Thumb: (Dan Airye (?)) You can’t just vary monsters by degree, you have to have different kinds. (i.e. Bosses.)

Question: “That’s one of our rules. Brings to mind the 400 project with Noah Falstien. Creating a lexicon of game design.”

That’s the hope, but not enough other people jumped on the bandwagon. It’s languishing a bit. Have more than 100. Started in 2001 with GDC talks. Was interested in summarizing how we make games. The problems that we face are so enormous in difficult and number that we’re not really good and find a way out. Some of these rules are explicitly known to us, and some are only passively known. Believes these rules are the substance of game design. In this respect, game design is similar to other arts and engineering. Beyond theory.

For example, in Improv theater, one the techniques is to “accept all suggestions.” Never say no, otherwise the act will stop. Another example, “If you want to stop an asteroid from colliding with Earth, you have to change it’s velocity by 1mm a second, 10 years before it hits to move it aside one Earth year radius.”

Example programmer rule: “Never believe a programmer when they say something will take two weeks to do.”

Question: “What were some of the inspirations for the Rules?”

Read a lot of science books. Broad interest. Interested that we can deeply focus on solving problems. Was reacting to Doug Church’s Formal Abstract Design Tools. Doesn’t believe in them at all – worthless. Spector concurs.

The world is discovery. In the world of film, there was a discovery that “cuts” would work. How to manipulate material. That humans would accept that idea and enjoy it. People didn’t understand the close-up. Quickly you learn “film” literacy.

Materials, What it Does, How you reach psychologically => Game Design Rules.

Materials are constrained by time & budget. Mechanics are things you think will attract people to want to play. What do people want to do or not.

Example: Guitar Hero -> tracking game mechanic. Turns out people like that.

Rules concept come from this intellectual force, materials and human beings combining together.

Question: “One of the things I like about the 400 project is the rules are very concrete. As a designer I can see how they apply to my specific problems.”

If you to be in games, or a writer, what you want to develop is a productive understand of what you’re doing. So you know what to do when given a blank page. When you start.

“To some it is Napoleon; to some it is Alexander the Great; to some it is philosophical struggle. To me it is simply Allegro con Brio. [discussing the first movement of Beethoven’s third (Eroica) symphony. Other versions of this quote have Toscanini saying, Some say this is Napoleon; some Hitler; some Mussolini. To me it is simply Allegro Con Brio.] – Arturo Toscanini

“You just have to realize that if you’re going to be a creative person your ideas are always going to collide with solid material.”

Question: “Fight player fatigue.”

People get tired. Games are hard. There must be charms to keep you involved. If they’re not there, you abandon the game. Compare completion rates between movies >> games >> books.

Question: “In the longer rule descriptions there are specific examples. Maximize expressive potential. Everyone of these speak to me – even though we disagree on a lot of stuff.”

This rule is a favorite.

Dramatic writing rule: take all of the characters in your story and write a scene between every pair of characters, even if that scene isn’t going to end up in your finished product. Look for the maximum use for all of your characters. Try out all everything you could do.

If you have a mechanic, look at all of the options of what you can do with it.

It’s worthwhile keeping these rules in mind consciously, otherwise you won’t stretch to obtain this stuff.

Question: “Maintain level of abstraction.”

Be consistent to your game’s setting and aesthetic. When writing a book, for example, you need to make a decision about how far in you will go into the mental life of each character. Don’t change how deep you go.

“Unity of effect. Yours makes sense, and ours we have to explain.”

Question: “What’s been the response to the rules?”

Languishing. Proceeds by fits and starts. Noah tends the embers. [I wonder if this would be different in the era of Github/Google Docs.]

One of things you learn about rules is the trump or contradict others and even themselves. Domain [scope] of the application also is critical. If you have two rules, which one wins.

Rules are really more or less guidelines.

Question: “Do rules ever go away?”

He has his own little set. They’re not all in the list if he stuck them all in there. A lot of them haven’t been discovered – what else do people know about. [Wonder what he thinks about The Art of Game Design – lens concepts.]

“Allow the player to turn the game off.” You should have a save game system which has no effect if player turns the game off. [Death to checkpoint saving! Not really, but at least something. Replaying Ico, and I wonder if it’s “couch” save game system which requires explicit action by the player is compatible with it.]

Question: “India Jones & Desktop Adventures. Yoda Stories?”

Wanted LucasArts to get interested in casual games. Specifically wanted to attract female players. 5% female based on LucasArts demographics. Eventually casual market came in, but was way ahead at the time.

Always been interested in the idea that could keep telling itself again and again with some novelty – like chess. After a few moves you have a “unique” situation. Thought there was a way to do this with puzzles which could be algorithmically hooked up. Sounds like a lot of procedural generated content.

Jones got very bad critical reaction. In Jones there was only a single puzzle chain. Each puzzle lead to another in a predictable fashion. Reduced some of the sense of mystery – spaciousness. For Yoda Stories focused on raising speculation for the player. Broke puzzle chain in two and didn’t tell player which “chain” they were working on or what chain items went to.

Question: “During break you mentioned graphics were very simple?”

I still play Yoda Stories, because it has genuine replayability in a story game format. Very hard to get to happen. Isometric tiles instead of top-down would have improved reception. [Heard this from Harvey Smith re Technosaur as well.]

Question: “Higher the fidelity of the graphics means you have to display more of the outcomes of the internal systems. I don’t think you could increase the fidelity of Indiana Jones and Yoda Stories.”

“Unity of Effect” => Maintain level of abstraction. In naturalistic world, some of the artificiality can’t be scoured out of a procedurally generated one. Leads to uncanny valley-like issues.

Question: “Smaller casual games?”

I’m interested in smaller casual games. Last project was 39 months – creative for about 6 months rest was as a management droid. Little games allow for quick projects. Not a fanatical person – will never play Halo, Half-life, WoW. [Interesting choices because all of those, especially Half-life, are very story drive games. That said, the story is “on rails,” but based on the previous description of adventure games that wasn’t precluded.]

There’s an echo from the TV & Movie business. Most studios would rather gamble big bucks on something which might be a big hit rather than do something which would be only moderately successful, even if it had a higher chance of pay-off. [Thinking, Fast & Slow concept AGAIN.]

Question: “Mata Hari. A new approach to dialog. (Still stuck in 1992 narrative structure.) Concept of tokens. Tracking multiple scores.”

Adventure games are alive and well in Germany. It’s a classic adventure game. They do adventure games really cheaply compared to LucasArts. US would be 5 times as expensive. At LucasArts when he was there, there were 400 people, about 200 active developers, at least 100 were hardly able to do their jobs.

When you go to a small studio, example Nihilistic, where there very few people there, 100% people know what they’re supposed to be doing – otherwise everything would collapse.

Nevertheless, they’re heavily budget constrained.

To deal with the fact that they couldn’t produce enough material to have a full fledged puzzle game, they decide to introduce some light RPG aspects. For the completist player. [GERMAN!] If you complete without backtracking you get a higher Skill score. There are easter eggs hidden items which led to Spycraft score. She was a dancer – strip tease. You have to dance to solve puzzles and find inspirations for new moves. Using the new moves, you get a higher Money score.

Decoder games with wiretapping.

Tokens have to do with the dialog system. He’s been very unhappy with how this has worked for a long time. Doesn’t care for branched dialog tree structure. Likes the slight variation used by TellTale. Concepts instead of literal display of text. Not literal. Not bad, but idea from Brian Moriarty from idea from The Dick (cancelled LucasArts game.) You proposed want to say, to talk to someone with using tokens.

Be careful to not confuse puzzles and clues. A puzzle is something which must be done to proceed. A clue is something you need to know to proceed.

You should be able to do two things. Unify all materials in the game. If it’s an idea, it’s still an item. All it is a concept with a solid visual form as a token in your inventory. You can use them in the same way that you use an item. The inventory display grays out things you can’t talk about with an NPC. Good part is that this unifies ideas an object.

Turns player memory into physical items.

Also conversation is surprising. It’s critical that you know your character isn’t going to betray you. So you can have a lot of fun seeing what she does when you play token discussion items on NPCs.

Would never work in a 1st person game. Requires a 3rd person game. [Uh, why?]

Be careful NOT to betray the players trust. Everything you get Mata Hari to do must live up to players expectation. That the right things will happen.

“Never thwart player expectations.”

Players feel really confident when they’re doing gadget puzzles. They feel very comfortable about that sort of stuff. This way changes how you feel about approaching people – you approach them the same way.

There’s a seduction technique. Requiring dialog choices following other choices is a maze. Do as little of that as possible. Most dialogue in their game is, crudely, locks & keys.

You can combine tokens as ideas. “How’s the weather in Paris?”

Game may not ship. [Did…]

Question: “There’s never any real consequence for making a choice. Can you reuse tokens at will?”

I would like to do that, but don’t have enough resources to get that done. Building alternative scenarios means time and money.

Someday we’ll have expert systems…

Hal Presentation

A Reasonsable Way to do something…

That’s a way people try to be polite. What it really means is:

“I would never ever do that!”

A lens [ ! ] into the stubbornness of the game industry. Many of us are specialists, but few of us are writers. We don’t often borrow things. Summary of common production problem -> reinvent the wheel. Doing an FPS? Just use Unreal or Cyrtek. Reveals a certain aesthetic that we have. People in other disciplines are quick to look for allied fields for help. Not so in Games.


  • Chronicles
  • Missions
  • Stories
    The “Stories in Games” debate never goes away. It’s impossible, but we do it. Chronicles are the sort of thing which happens in WoW or in any group game. Vice City. You’re telling your own story. Missions have assigned specific goals – no character making a dramatic choice. Stories are propelled by a character’s choice (Example Ico).

Arts are Individual

  • They overlap
  • Get Experts
    Example, level design can be informed by architecture.

Rules of Thumb

  • Ideas meets Artists
  • Wisdom
    Practicality of rules… Supersedes theory.

No “I” in “Team”

  • Most Teams are Structured
    It’s a cliche from the Military and football and their assigned roles and hierarchy. Games are a bit of an exception to that. As a freelancer, toughest part of any job is trying to figure out who’s in charge and what the hell they want from me. [Not scoped to being a freelancer…]

Make Little Games!

  • Learn Your Craft
    “Make your material talk to you.” Paper doesn’t talk back to you in the same way that a thing will. Won’t put as much effort in. Teach you if you have what it takes. It’s hard to do games – not all of it’s fun. Joyful labor. Find out, if it’s not fun, are you still interested. [I thought this was really interesting. First, it’s COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY TRUE. But aside from that, it’s an interesting lesson vis-a-vis his film experience. He knew something about movies before going to Film School, but only spent a short time making scratch movies before going. Is there a minimum effective dose here? If so, sounds pretty small really. That’s good news if true, but likely to be dependent on the person in question.]

Trailer for RTX: Red Rock. (At 2:01)

Commercial flop, but proud of it.

Mata Hari Wiretapping Flash App Demo (At 2:02)

Like Scramble-Square. Puzzle edges have to match up. Squares can be moved or rotated. 9×9 square. Multiple possible solutions. Pattern puzzles (Rubic Cube) are evergreen. 5 min after you do one, you forget and have to learn/do it again. Need to turn it into something which actually does something. Paper isn’t good enough

Space Snatchers: Apple II Game (2:05)

Had cut scene. [God I miss playing games like that. You can’t really play them any more, because we’re so ruined, but wow.]

Yoda Stories (2:09)

[YEAH Star Wars!]

Audience Questions

Question: “Mass Effect conversation system?”

Not a big RPG guy. Played KOTOR & Jade Empire. Hated KOTOR because it was clunky. Jade Empire was much better. Somethings were totally divorced from reality.

Leery of emotional or ethical ideas. Deep and complex. Take a game like Fable. Crude representations of morality don’t work for him.

Games can thrive on fairly simple stories. Character is not Hamlet. In games we have Spiderman’s web. Indiana Jones is a good example. Have good credentials – place you in the action. Indiana Jones speaks languages, fists, pistol, whip, goes on digs.

Example from Movies: The Mountain. Dynamic of the movie is a moral delemina. In a movie you can’t make an environment a villain. It’s just a condition. In a game you can.

Question: “Mata Hari might not ship?”

Game is being made on a shoestring. [It did. Got both good and bad reviews. Sounds like a resource issue for most. SIGH.] Predicted another year before release. [Turned out to be 2.]

They’re falling behind a little bit. As a publisher how to you manage the release cycle. Every week his mood goes up and down.

“That’s pretty much the game business.” – Spector

Question: “How do we share technology in an industry that secretive?”

It is, because we’re organized into companies. Companies are run by foolish people who want to protect these assets which are semi-worthless. If you’re smart, you do as little software as possible.

This happened at LucasArts with an interactive sound system called iMused. Everyone does that now, but they were forbidden from talking about how they were doing it.

As an analogy in the movie industry, if you were doing a feature motion picture about football or baseball… [Long skycam description.] When the camera guy leaves at the end of that production, and will tell everyone else at his new company about what’s going on. So everyone knows exactly what to do.

GDC is ineffective and has to get changed.

Related Posts:

Lecture 1 Warren Spector
Lecture 2 w/Patrica York
Lecture 3 w/Harvey “Witchboy” Smith
Thinking, Fast & Slow – Irrational Perseverance
Lecture 4 w/Hal Barwood
Lecture 7 w/Mike Morhaime

Copybooks: Privacy, Logjams, and Permanence

For some tactical copybook how-to listen: How To Create A Personal Knowledge Management System from Coaching for Leaders

In addition to the tactical, it really shook thoughts of privacy loose. I spend a lot of time interacting with, and thinking about things which, when taken out of context, could result in negative consequences. I wrote a study on binomial random number theory, based on the digits of Pi, spurred on by the Pioneer Plaque & the Voyager Golden Record, but also inspired by something else. For those keeping score: game design relevant math, To Infinity and Beyond!, somewhere from my past, and something I shouldn’t talk about.

Damn it.

Such is the way of things and, by no means, is it new.

Check out this crazy: History’s Greatest Alchemists, Part 1: Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

Isaac Newton was nuts for alchemy. As in lead to gold. Yes, the Royal Society of London member, 3 laws of motion, ouch an apple just hit my head. He published hundreds of pages about alchemy at a time when it was downright risqué. He spent more seeking the Philosopher’s Stone than on MATH. Who did he think he was? Harry Potter?

Actually no, Isaac was a following an already well worn path. There’s just something about Physics which led one to contemplate God, the existence and reality of his existence. There’s just something about wondering about the true nature of matter which makes one contemplate and invoke the divine – or to deny divinities existence.

All sorts of wonderfully heretical thoughts become possible. Should we worship the Sun and Stars in the context of Christianity? Should the be venerated as Saints? Isaac and Kepler (yes – THAT Kepler) thought so. Isaac didn’t just say that we should, he actually wrote it down (A short Schem for the true Religion.) He published it, back when that was difficult.

Think on that for a moment.

How much trouble that could have caused for him. Did it cause trouble for him? How could it not? How could he be two so divergent and incompatible people at the same time? I immediately jump to the world was different in the early 1700’s than now, but that seems like to simple of an answer. Different how? Different why? Is there some way to be able to return to that level of “freedom”? Would we want to be able to? (Tons more on alchemy here: History of Alchemy Podcast.)

Thoughts for another day…

The Capture, Curation, and Create steps should be separated by time, to serve as an automatic filter, ensuring your limited time and effort is well spent. If something isn’t interesting two days later, why would you want to spend even more time with it? A reasonable enough assertion. But I think it’s also important to go back and ask yourself: What did I miss the first time I looked at this? It’s amazing to me how often that question comes to the answer: oh this is reductive and therefore uninteresting. Or: hey, this connects to that other thing in an interesting way. Or: this is cool, but I’ve got something better to work on.

I’m intentionally creating a logjam of ideas. Too much to fit through the hole. Too much to process in the time available. Too many other worthy choices. Often times really great things do not survive and are forgotten.

It’s harsh as hell.

It requires the conviction of the righteous – a conviction recently buttressed by the discovery that Robert Greene follows a similar approach (via Mixergy) with sufficient vigor that he requires it of others. (A detailed comparison of Ryan Holiday’s version of Robert’s system is one of the “logs” in the river at the moment. I expect it’ll come out a bit like the Telephone Game with aspects of game cloning artifacts. That said, TOO SOON…)

[I took a detour here to write in DayOne, because that lead to thoughts not suitable for public conception. An excellent segue to the concept of Permanence…]

Virtual knowledge stores (web pages, emails, twitter feeds photos, etc.) are incredibly fragile. Those that assert otherwise… Haven’t been on the Internet long enough. Haven’t been interacting with technology long enough. Haven’t heard people much smarter than I:

Yet, here I write on a service owned by someone else. On a server I don’t control. Under ToS for which I can’t veto, or even appeal. With the explicit intention of keeping, and using, this information in the future.


Scott Meyers has a new C++ book coming! /happydance

C++ programmers everywhere rejoice.

He’s looking for title recommendations.

Here’s what I suggested:
Effective C++ Now: n Specific Ways to Improve Your Use of Modern C++

1. Leverage your existing title recognition without confusion.
2. Gets rid of all of the reasons why someone wouldn’t want to pickup the book (11 vs. 14) while driving home the core point – this is NEW.
3. Gives you license to include (or not) STL related material.
4. The use of the word Now drives home a sense of urgency – your work is immediately applicable, even if you only read a single recommendation.

That said, your existing books are still pretty damn timeless. They are truly unlike most “technical” books which age out nearly as quickly as the ink dries.

Upon further reflection, and a close reading of the requirements, I’d go with this:
Effective C++ Now: n More Specific Ways to Improve Your Use of Modern C++

Copybooks are trouble

Some of my earliest memories are of the pre-printed variety. More than what Rudyard Kipling would recognize as such, but they were Gods none the less. Wisdom and morality. Thoughts and knowledge.

Questions to be asked and answered.

Reading became acquiring knowledge. Of analysis. Without regard to the time or effort required. The creation of an aggregate collection of applied knowledge. Without question. Simply because it was to be done. The concept of pleasure reading doesn’t make any sense to me.

Even popcorn has a taste.

I cannot read Tarzan and not feel aspiration. I cannot read Starship Troopers and and think of my own family. I cannot read The Dresden Files and not seek out impossible odds. If I have an experience, it’s coming on board – one way or another. Only by choice. Consciously and deliberately.

I am my own cruel taskmaster.

My copybook is a multihued thing: private thoughts in a DayOne journal, semi-private Facebook posts, writings on a blog, wholesale replication of other’s thoughts in EverNote, and broken phrases on Twitter. Each has it’s point and value, but they’re for my understanding, not for others, even thought they maybe available to them.

I discovered that I wasn’t not alone in this practice. That I’m not the only one who’s taken the rote act of copying and morphed it into making something my own.

While plowing through Robert Greene’s Mastery, I realized the damn point. The process I followed, without ever questioning, was not how others did things. Instead they had to actually be both taught and convinced of its value. How is that not prima facie obvious?

The human race simply isn’t lucky that way.

Without application, how can you verify veracity? Without, at least, even trying to use use something, how can you know how something works? Or if it even works? This takes a huge effort. System 2 is lazy and our brains are willing to accept what they see is all that there is (WYSIATI.)

My brain hurts.

That’s just the start of it:

  1. You’ll know that you’ve wasted your time. Well before you get to the end of whatever it is you start, you will come to the conclusion that what you are doing has no value. Many whelps – handle it.

  2. It’s actually hard to apply something. Knowledge of both it’s form and function are required. That understanding is not easy.

  3. Correctness is not required. You can learn a hell of a lot from swinging a hammer, even if you don’t drive the nail in straight the first time.

  4. Making choices takes from the same font as willpower. The knock-on damage is significant, and must be paid attention to.


Copybook example follows:

Others carry the same copybook lodestone.

Immediately after every lecture, meeting, or any significant experience, take 30 seconds — no more, no less — to write down the most important points. If you always do just this, said his grandfather, and even if you only do this, with no other revision, you will be okay. – anon

THIRTY SECONDS? I might as well be running around screaming about ONE POINT TWENTY ONE GIGAWATTS! Holy hell. I can’t even write a paragraph in 30 seconds.

I’m agog at the constraint. Clearly.

I wonder if getting faster at writing and drawing would be helpful? Not typing. Writing. How else could something like this be done? There’s just not enough… information density in the written word to be able to communicate even the edges of a (substantial) idea in 30 seconds.

Who the hell am I? Sun Tzu? Marcus Aurelius? A fortune cookie?

Sigh… Following this idea to it’s logical conclusion is going to lead to a whole new toolchain.

Like I have the energy, the willpower, the time, for that.

The queue is already ridiculous.

An echo of Stonehenge compels me forward.

Enough, or no.