Plundered Hearts is a game I’ve known about for over 30 years, since I knew the titles of all the Infocom games, even though I’ve never been able to finish one. At the time, this one wouldn’t even have been on my radar as something I’d want to play, since it was an interactive romance novel, instead of a story about spaceships or wizards.
Reading Reed’s account of its author, Amy Briggs, going into the creative process, and the game’s reception to audiences in 1987, is fascinating. It shows how much we’ve matured over the years — seeing the reaction from both “eww, girl stuff!” computer game reviewers as well as “eww, too much girl stuff!” from contemporary feminists seems so alien right now that it’s almost quaint.
But it also shows how much we’ve developed tunnel vision. I think back in the 80s, an interactive romance novel might’ve felt dismissible simply because it still felt like there was so much potential for interactive entertainment. When it seems like the medium can do anything, having it do something as familiar and as seemingly low-brow would seem unambitious. Now, the idea of a commercial video game release that’s both a clear work of an author and an unapologetic celebration of genre fiction would be a huge novelty.
We’re better suited to individual creators making story-driven fiction like this than at any point in history, but it’s also unlikely to get any traction because there’s not much money in it. Well-written, unconventional games that aren’t entirely action- or puzzle-based are still seen as academic experiments or hobby projects. The only game in recent memory that has that feeling of “literary fiction” is Firewatch, which felt more like an adult contemporary short story floating on the surface of a first-person action adventure game.
Reed’s article on Uncle Roger by Judy Malloy was even more fascinating, because it’s a game and a developer I had never heard of. It sounds even more like adult contemporary short stories, but presented in hypertext format. Again, it shows how much the game industry has overlooked and undervalued the work of women, and how much innovation and sense of raw potential there used to be in the game space, before we got stuck with so many over-familiar genres and formats. Reading about Malloy’s innovation made me feel simultaneously inspired and like a huge, unimaginative, fraud.
I haven’t yet read Jimmy Maher’s post about Plundered Heartson The Digital Antiquarian, but I’m looking forward to it, as it sounds it’s a little closer in time to interviews with Briggs, and it’s more in the tone of looking at the game as a creative work as opposed to its place in video game history.
This blog post from 2012, lamenting the loss of “Miss April-December” from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, was circulating again now that her portrait has been restored to the ride’s loading area.
Matt Sephton has a blog post explaining how to Turn an iPad Pro Into the Ultimate Classic Macintosh. I’ve always had bad luck with emulators, but Sephton’s links an explanation made it so easy that even I was able to get it working. (You do need to be able to run Xcode and make builds for an iOS/iPadOS device). Reading about video game history has made me severely nostalgic for my old Mac Plus, so I really appreciate his pointing me towards the instructions and an outlet for running HyperCard and the like again.
Thoughts about the beautiful serenity of not giving a damn
I read something on Twitter the other morning that made enough of an impression on me that I felt compelled to break my read-only rule1Just temporarily, Twitter is still garbage and comment on how false it was. It was from game developer Rami Ismail:
A reminder that being a terrible person that “loves crunch”, “yells at people”, and “says things they don’t mean” will eventually end your industry career, even if you manage to grow your tiny studio from just a few people all the way up to AAA size. Being a team player matters.
To be clear, I’m not trying to call out Ismail or anything. It’s an idea that I would’ve agreed with to some degree at several points over my career. And that is why I want to stress that it’s not true, but more importantly, it doesn’t really matter that it’s not true.
So let me stress first: it’s demonstrably false. I’ve worked for or with quite a few terrible people over the past 25+ years, and most of them have just kept failing upwards. Unless by “eventually end your industry career,” he meant, “you’ll at worst retire comfortably,” then I’ve never seen any evidence of the kind of cosmic justice that he’s describing.
I spent quite a bit of time in my 30s and early 40s holding out expectation for resolutions that were never going to come. First hoping for reconciliation, then vindication, then even schadenfreude, so I’d feel that there’d been some kind of justice. It almost never actually happens, and on the rare occasion it does, it almost never actually makes anything better.
So when I say that terrible people almost never face any real consequences for treating people badly, it’s not just empty cynicism or bitterness. Just the opposite, in fact: I’m saying stop wasting any time thinking about what may happen to other people some day, and just live your damn life.
This week’s links are a retrospective for a charming educational series, city planning primers, and more about why GM sucks so bad.
I was too old to be the target audience of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, but that didn’t stop me from watching pretty often. It was such a charming concept executed so well that I wished it had existed just a few years earlier. (Except then, it wouldn’t have been such a product of the 1990s, which is probably an inseparable part of the charm). This retrospective/history of the show does a pretty good job of reminding you why it was so appealing, even to those of us in college at the time.
I’ve also spent the week re-discovering the City Beautiful channel, where Dave Amos makes well-produced videos about different topics in city planning and city development. I first found the channel on account of its videos about the original plan for EPCOT and a comparison of Disney World’s transit system to “real world” transit systems in similarly-sized cities. I think The Algorithm brought it back to my attention because I’ve gotten into the “City Planner Plays” channel, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a city planner doing play-through videos of Cities: Skylines.
And in case I was getting too optimistic about our potential for intelligently planning to solve the issues facing cities, Climate Town came long with another video describing how General Motors’s outsized influence on city planning helped destroy the entire model for healthy cities in the United States, to guarantee that we’re overwhelmingly dependent on cars.
The one encouraging thing is that it’s another reminder of how many of our problems in city design, pollution, income inequality, and racial inequity, have been orchestrated, instead of being inevitable or just developing organically. If we’re reminded that people are responsible for all this, then we can commit to being people that fix it.
A random assortment of links including fascinating simulations of path-traveling algorithms.
I pretty much always think Sebastian Lague’s “Coding Adventure” videos are fascinating, and this one about ant and slime simulations doesn’t disappoint. His videos aren’t tutorials or how-tos, really, but more a diary of his train of thought and a high-level description of his algorithm while exploring a particular topic. It helps that he’s adept at making videos that make each topic compelling.
As a result, I’m almost always inspired to action after watching one of the videos. I want to learn about compute shaders, and procedurally-created meshes in Unity, and techniques to make interesting visualizations! But then I usually end up just sitting back and watching more theme park videos.
Also discovered this week:
This weird video from the Primer channel about running simulations to determine whether there’s a genetic advantage to altruism.
Here’s a longer promotional film for the Odyssey that does a better job of dispelling any potential nostalgia. (I’m intrigued by the Haunted House game, though). I’m hoping that no millennials watch these videos and go away thinking that we were all impressed with screwing a VHF channel-switch box to the antenna connections on our TVs. Even at the time, we all appreciated that that was janky as hell.
Nostalgia not just for childhood literature but to things I’ve already linked to.
I’ve already linked to Aaron Reed’s 50 Years of Text Games project in a previous post, but I feel like I misrepresented it somewhat. For instance, the scope is broader than I mentioned: it doesn’t just include the Infocom-style computer text adventure games, but “a history of digital games without graphics.”
That includes stuff I hadn’t realized, like the fact that The Oregon Trail started as a text-only game written in BASIC, released the year I was born! And it also includes a story of the creation of The Cave of Time, the first Choose Your Own Adventure book. That’s full of interesting details I hadn’t known before, such as the fact that the CYOA games and contemporary computer games were developed in parallel, instead of one idea influencing the other. Also, that the format predated The Cave of Time and the disappointingly litigious CYOA brand.
The series is turning out to be more interesting than I’d first expected it to be, and I’ve gone from “I’ll have to check that out sometime” to “Am I actually going to have to subscribe to something on substack?” after reading just a couple of entries.
It also reminds me of why I first wanted to get into computer programming. I was about 10 or 11 years old, I was at my friend Jason’s house, and his family had recently gotten a Commodore VIC-20, the first “home computer” I’d ever seen. I was just amazed that you could type something and it would show up on a TV screen. They started to show me how it played games as well, and while I can’t remember what game they chose, I do remember that it started by asking you to type in player names. His sister typed in “ASSWIPE (JASON)”, which resulted in 10 or 15 minutes of the computer happily calling him an asswipe. I thought it was the most brilliant thing I’d ever seen.
The spark of inspiration took hold of me that day, and I vowed to commit my life to exploring the profound potential of interactive entertainment.
Not that anyone asked, but the reason I was looking at the Hasbro site was because they’ve announced a new toy figure based on the old Star Wars comic character Jaxxon the space rabbit. Nerds tend to take their fandoms way too seriously, and it’s good to remember every once in a while how much of it is inherently silly.
Last month, there was a retrospective of the Zork adventure game, by Aaron Reed as part of his 50 Years of Text Games series. As somebody who’s always loved the history, packaging, and stories surrounding these games — but has never much enjoyed playing the games themselves — I’m looking forward to reading the whole series.
I’m still comparison-shopping EVs, and I’ve got some questions.
I’ve been “researching” (read: watching YouTube videos about) electric vehicles for several weeks now, and a lot of the same ideas keep recurring: tips to speed up fast-charging time, maximizing battery life, maximizing range, etc. But never having owned an EV or spent a long time looking into them, there are a few things I can’t figure out.
I’ve had an entirely too charitable impression of car reviewers One thing I’ve learned from watching lots of car reviews is that car reviewers mostly suck. There are obvious exceptions, but as someone who’s never been particularly interested in cars, I’ve always just assumed that reviewers are well familiar with all the myriad details about cars that are lost on me. But I’ve been surprised by how many reviews get the basic details wrong, ignore aspects of the car that are obviously specific to a review situation, or go on about aspects of the car that are irrelevant to drivers that aren’t reviewers. Is it all Top Gear‘s fault?
What’s the deal with the front trunk? Speaking of terrible reviews: what the hell is this garbage review of the ID.4? The reviewer was biased against the car from the start, but that’s okay because I was biased against the review for being from a Gawker site. (Yes, I know that Gawker Media doesn’t exist anymore, but the taint is inescapable). What’s odd to me, though, is that this isn’t the only review I’ve seen to waste so much time talking about the lack of a front trunk.
It’s an absurd complaint. The closest I’ve seen to a reasonable explanation is that it’s convenient to keep the charging cable in there, but I’m not buying it. Is this supposed to be a real complaint?
How do Elon Musk’s fanboys justify a proprietary super charger network? I’ve been in the SF Bay Area enough to see a depressing number of men go glassy-eyed and speak in reverent tones about how Musk’s visionary work is going to save our fragile planet. I’ve been so eager to get into a situation of no longer talking to them, that I never got to ask them the obvious question: how do they justify making the super charger network proprietary and exclusive to Tesla owners? Obviously, the ubiquity of the network is a selling point for the cars, but wouldn’t it be best for everyone to encourage more EV purchases in the US, while at the same time charging non-Tesla drivers for the convenience?
Are crossover SUVs really as popular as people keep saying? The thing I found most surprising when I started comparing cars: there are almost no affordable options for 200+ mile range in a sedan, coupe, or hatchback. As far as I can tell, there’s just the Chevy Bolt or the Tesla Model 3. I understand that bigger batteries give better range, but I’m stunned that more manufacturers haven’t gone the ID.3 route, and that Volkswagen hasn’t made the ID.3 available in the US. The explanation was “Americans want SUVs.” I can’t tell if that’s a real thing or just a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I haven’t been watching Tiny Secret Whispers on the streaming services, but I almost feel like I don’t need to after seeing Seth Meyers’s fantastic recaps on Late Night. His check-ins with Delgado, Packer, and the twins is my favorite recurring segment on the show.
I also saw a couple of trailers this week that look pretty interesting and/or genre-bending:
Kevin Can Fuck Himself starring Annie Murphy in what seems to be a combination sitcom/black comedy about revenge murder. Is it a series? A TV movie? No idea, but it looks interesting and is on AMC.
Made for Love will be on HBO Max and star Cristin Milioti, who has been in a ton of really cool stuff, but whom I will always think of as Your Mother. Highlights of this trailer are of course Ray Romano reciting “Crazy in Love” but especially “I thought those were metaphors!”
How Volkswagen Will Recycle Electric Vehicle Batteries. This is marketing material from Volkswagen USA, so approach with an appropriate level of skepticism. But I was interested to see that they seem to have a plan, since for so long I’ve been hearing naysayers claim that EV batteries are going to be just as big an ecological hazard in a few years as carbon emissions are now.
Disney’s also released photos of the remodeled Moana-themed rooms at the Polynesian Village resort. As much as I want the Polynesian to stay stuck in perpetual 1971, it’s pretty clear that guests paying those prices are going to want something that feels more current. I think it looks like they did a pretty great job of balancing Character-Filled-Disney-Hotel with Luxury-Hotel-in-the-21st-Century.
A fairly new YouTube channel makes getting pissed about the environment fun again
Well, that didn’t last very long. Earlier in the week, I was wondering whether it would be such a bad thing if I got an internal combustion engine car and just didn’t drive it very often. After discovering the Climate Town YouTube channel, I’m resolving to never buy gasoline ever again. Not necessarily because I believe I have a huge impact on the environment, but out of spite for the gas companies that I now hate so much.
I suspect the idea behind the channel is that the messaging around climate change has for so long been dry and boring, angry and alarmist, or guilt-tripping. Rollie Williams decided to make videos that were a call to action, but also kind of funny. It worked for me, at least: some of these were things I was vaguely aware of, but had either never put the pieces together, or I’d completely forgotten about them.
The “carbon footprint” is the one that really got me, because it reminded me of my history of being gullible and letting corporate marketing campaigns manipulate me. Back in high school, I would dutifully tear apart all of the plastic soda-can yokes before tossing them in the recycling, never once questioning why it wasn’t Coke’s responsibility to come up with something better than plastic soda-can yokes.
Fully Charged on the Hyundai Ioniq 5 Launch: I think this channel has been mentioned on here before, but it’s another attempt (with Robert Llewellyn of Red Dwarf) to put an entertaining spin on electric vehicles and cleaner energy
If you missed the video of the Perseverance Rover’s Landing on Mars, you really should watch it. I don’t understand how they kept their voices steady; I didn’t watch it until after I already knew what happened, and I was still nervous the whole time.
NASA also released audio recorded from the surface of Mars. But since the rover has its own Twitter account, I was just disappointed that they didn’t follow up the tweet with the video with one that said, “Well that blew up! While you’re here, check out my soundcloud….”