Tuesday 8 October 2013

general status update

- I just moved house and getting an internet connection is taking its time. So I am unreliable right now. As usual.

- OK I know some of you are waiting for 868-HACK to be released on PC. I've not been making much progress on this. There's not a huge amount to be done but I want to get it right not have BAD PORT. I think it's been really good to do this separately, I've fixed a bunch of bugs while only having to update them in one place - maintaining several copies of a game in different places is such a hassle. Probably simultaneous release is Optimal Marketing Strategy but you've got to sacrifice some things when it's just you.

- But hey the response to that game has been pretty great. Some really nice reviews link link link link link, a few negatives but hey whatever I don't expect to please everyone. A bunch of negative comments about the (DRASTICALLY EXORBITANT) price, but it's achieved my goal of being able to afford to keep doing this for a while more which is FANTASTIC (I just feel sorry for anyone who tries to do this without someone to support them for a few years to get to that point). Talked with indie statik about that. Anyway, way cool, thanks everyone.

- Some concerns about whether .SCORE is too strong for single-game high scores? I suspect part of this is because it's part of the initial set of progs available, whereas other high-scoring progs are unlocked later. But I'm keeping an eye on it, it's interesting to watch. I personally pick it up very rarely because it's so risky, and I've had 90+ scores without it. But basically the problem is: a lot of what's balancing it is that risk (enemies spawned on acquisition, and lack of resources later if they're spent on it earlier) and if you just try enough times you'll get games where the risk pays off. This problem exists in the usual scoring system as well, perhaps less transparently, which was my reason for focusing on streaks (for probabilities multiply out to be very small very quickly). Perhaps I should have omitted single-game scores entirely and only had a streak table? Insufficient bravery.

- I've been making a 4-player game, SMESPORT. It started as a stripped-down dotalike for the 7-day RTS jam, but I failed the jam and kept working on it through several iterations until now it looks a lot closer to Hokra, I should write more about this process sometime. It was shown at a recent Wild Rumpus in Texas, which sadly I couldn't make it to. I'll be showing it at Nottingham Gamecity in a couple of weeks (officially in the open arcade on 20th, 21st, 23rd, 25th but I'll be around for the whole time). Hopefully watch lots of people play it and learn things to tune it to be better. Might try to organise a tournament towards the end of the week if people are into it? It's really intense competitive electrosport.

- I'm speaking at Practice at NYU in November. Can't escape academia. Upstart. Something about roguelikes.

- Yeah still doing little things on Helix sporadically. Ugh who knows, no hurry, I'm finding it good for harvesting procrastination energy anyway.

- Not sure if I mentioned BECOME AN ARTIST on here? Made it with mcc for a jam a few weeks back. I'm still finding it pretty useful for making pretty pictures.

Sunday 6 October 2013

Pierre Menard, player of the scholar's mate.

I'm not a big fan of Chess - it has too much memorisation and menial computation for my taste - but I do partake on occasion. Sometimes my wife challenges me, and she almost always wins. But there was one game I like to mention from time to time which went differently. We opened with a few turns of reasonable seeming moves - I brought out my queen, she responded with her horses. Then I noticed an opportunity for check and just went for it, even though I expected I'd probably lose my queen in the process. She reached to respond and then paused, looked closer, furrowed her brow, and laughed. I looked back at the board to see what the fuss was about, tried to work out which move she was considering and.. couldn't find any. I'd somehow stumbled into a scholar's mate and she - not expecting any such trickery - had fallen for it. Cue obnoxious gloating.

Another time my friend Martin challenged me to play without a board. We exchanged a few moves, it began as an interesting intellectual exercise, but before very long at all - just as it was reaching the limits of our ability to track it - he announced checkmate. Incredulous I thought through the board state, eventually admitting that yes, he'd pulled off a scholar's mate. He'd read of this opening and deliberately set out to attempt it.

Two games which were mathematically isomorphic, having the exact same moves and outcome, but with completely different meanings. One accidental, the other intentional.

How we read a game depends on who is playing. Each move has a process of thought behind it; identical moves can be interpreted differently if they differ in intent. How you understand Deep Blue vs. Kasparov depends on whether you view it as a conflict between Man and Machine, or between individual and collective human effort. A beginner taking a risky opening simply does not realise what they're doing; an intermediate player may be hoping to get lucky, or perhaps to throw their opponent off-guard; while an expert has calculated the outcome and is confident they can handle it. Was that a mistake, a bluff, or a brilliant gambit you don't understand yet?

When we talk about "replayability" in games we're usually thinking of them offering variety by presenting different possible situations and moves. But even identical moves and positions may mean different things. (And of course, as Ben Abraham points out any game is replayable in the sense that any book is rereadable - even if the events and words are the same, we have changed.)

There are only nine games of Rock-Paper-Scissors, and three of them are ties.

(The words in this post are based on actual events, but I have on two occasions lifted them from truth into fiction. The first game may not have been an exact scholar's mate, but it was a close approximation with perhaps an additional move. And let the record show that I thwarted Martin's attempt - at which point he lost interest for he was unprepared for the challenge of a spoken-word Chess game without having chosen his moves in advance. But in a nearby universe these could both be true.)