Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Content and Context

My friend has a brief post up about html, and the very concept of hypertext is no longer central to the way we use the web.

I think this has been part of the democratization of the web. Back when everything was hand-made html pages, there weren't that many sites (relative to today, I mean, which I suppose is an absurd comparison, but there it is).

But it's not so much that there are fewer html pages as that the rate at which other kinds of web content has grown has been explosive - content creation tools have been the real cornerstone of Web 2.0, and as the barrier to entry for content creation has dropped, the amount being created has skyrocketed.

Now the obvious part is over and it's time for me to start firing off into the dark. In my opinion, twitter represents the climax of the push toward content creation. The content itself is so simple that users are able to constantly post more of it, and no one can possibly keep up with the flood of information. The reason I call it a climax is because it's hard to imagine the content getting much weaker. The internet has been trending toward more, weaker content for a long time now, but it's not a sustainable trend.

I don't think that web technology will continue trending towards "more content" for long. Once the network is inundated with information, which it is, the push for context is going to become stronger and stronger. People will increasingly want rules - something against which to define themselves and their information. This is where virtual worlds can potentially be very powerful, but right now they're too removed from the rest of our internet activities to be really big.

So the list of contextual elements that I think are becoming increasingly important include:

Identity - This is probably something that would greatly surprise people 5-10 years ago, and which members of certain chan-related websites would like to deny, but the idea of being anonymous on the internet is rapidly going out of fashion. This is primarily the result of the internet becoming an increasingly relevant part of our society and our daily lives.

Space/Location - It looks like the main candidate to tackle this right now is augmented reality (AR). The basic idea behind AR is to associate virtual content or information with real-world locations and objects, instead of keeping them in a completely artificial space.

Legitimacy by association - This is something that happens to a large extent already, but I don't hear discussed much. The flexibility of html has also been a huge weakness - since one can create literally anything, you have no idea what to expect from a webpage. Contrast that with, say, a page on Wikipedia - sure, the content changes from one page to the next, but there is an inherent structure to the wiki page and it has built in controls (other people editing the page). When I search for something I'm suddenly curious about on google, and a Wikipedia page pops up, I'm more likely to click on it than another page, not because I believe it has the most informed or unbiased writers behind it, but because I know what the expect from the page. This is a direction that the web has been headed in for a while and will continue in.

That's about it for now. You have my official prediction that Web 3.0, whatever it is, won't be about yet even more content than we can produce now.

-Silent Ellipsis

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Rise of Magus: Big in France

Apparently French people respond well to my game. I noticed today a visit to the site that came from a search on google.fr, and I checked it out to find that someone had created and uploaded a 10 minute gameplay video on Dailymotion.

It also included a link to a forum discussion going on about it (in French), which included a request for a translation. Now, I'm confident enough in my French to post on there and say hi, but not to try translating dialogue myself. What's more, I don't think Game Maker supports accents or most foreign characters.

That said, if someone wants to translate the game into French or any other language, I'll try to plug the translation into the game and release an alternate language version.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rise of Magus Site Down

*Update June 25: The site is back up now at http://silentellipsis.com

Due to an issue with the server I'm using, silentellipsis.com and the main page for The Rise of Magus are temporarily down. The issue should be resolved soon, but in the meantime, the domain will redirect to my blog here. You can still play the game on YoYo Games here:


You can also download the game from any of these locations:


-Silent Ellipsis

Friday, June 19, 2009

Music Videos

I assume anyone who actually reads this blog realizes by now the kind of nerd I am, so I doubt my image will be tarnished much further by sharing these.

Last night I ran across a music video (an anime music video, no less) I made some years ago, and it occured to me that not everyone has seen them. If you have, you're free to stop reading, or to roll your eyes at me for making a post about this.

The first, which I made 2 or 3 years ago, is a fairly straightforward video of Final Fantasy VII Advent Children to Nightwish. This is not the most original combination of source material, but the editing and timing is exceptional, if I do say so myself. This was actually a collaborative project with UntoldForce, who came up with the combination, the outline for the video, and a couple key moments. Unfortunately, the original draft also included full minute-long clips of footage without any original cuts, which I found heretical. I gutted the video, left most of the outline in place, and recreated it.

Of course, it lacks anything resembling a plot, meaning, or purpose beyond "that was cool." In other words, I was very faithful to the source material.

My single favorite moment of the video is at 3:43, when the motorcycle bounces. There were plenty of well-timed shots, but that one was truly perfect. I crack up every time I see it.

Alright, second video. This one is a little...um...less faithful to the source material. It's also one of my greatest high school accomplishments. This video was created in an editing frenzy not unlike the Vulcan Pon Farr - a ritual in which I could only expel the demons that possessed me through a primal act of creation, by completing the project in 48 hours.

Unfortunately, the concept will not be immediately clear to most viewers. Basically, I took the audio from a legendary scene in Transformers: the Movie (not the Michael Bay movie, the animated one) and edited it together with footage from the Escaflowne movie so that, I hoped, they would look like they were meant to go together. There's a bit of story behind its creation, but I'll save it for after the video.

Reactions to this video vary from "huh?" to "that was the greatest video I have ever seen." Your reaction was likely between the two, and may have tended on the "huh?" side.

Now the story. In my second year of video production in high school, we were all expected to complete an "independent project" in one quarter. I was making a highly pretentious video set to Philip Glass music, and had collected all the footage I needed, so I asked my teacher if I could borrow one of the editing machines (a G4 Mac) over the weekend so I could edit the project. He said ok, but unfortunately (or fortunately for those who liked the video above) I forgot to bring my footage home with me, and the video lab was locked.

Not wanting to show up empty handed on Monday, I decided to take advantage of having an editing machine for another, more dubious purpose. I knew immediately that I wanted to make a video that used the audio from Transformers, but I wasn't sure what to edit it to. I went through a list of candidate series and movies, considering what each had to offer, until I just stumbled upon the Escaflowne movie and discovered that if had everything I needed. I did sleep and eat food that weekend, but I'm not sure that I did much else.

Now, there's another piece of background I skipped. In my first year of video production, discussions about anime had derailed the class often enough that my teacher had declared all anime forbidden in his classroom. Additionally, my friend, UntoldForce, had dropped the class a week after school started, in a move that thoroughly disturbed my teacher. Knowing this, you can probably imagine his reaction when he came into class on Monday and saw my friend sitting in the classroom viewing my final product, which at first glanced didn't even appear as an edited project but simply a scene from an anime series.

I escaped punishment by convincing my teacher that it was impressive that he hadn't been able to tell it was something I'd edited together from two sources. He rejected my attempt to turn this in as my indepent project however, so I ended up finishing Pretention in 3 Parts (I don't remember what the original title was, but that works just as well).

I've made other music videos, but they do not appear here either because they're not in digital form (they're on VHS tapes in my closet - I really should digitize them), or because they are unspeakable horrors that were created in order to please other beings and not myself.

-Silent Ellipsis

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Chrono Compendium Post (also: Jason Rohrer)

Today, when I went to check on traffic to silentellipsis.com, I noticed a sudden spike in the numbers, and subsequently that many of these new users were coming from chronocompendium.com. Sure enough, my game, The Rise of Magus, had been mentioned on the front page of the site.

As I mentioned before (and as has been reported across the internet at this point), the main project for the site got shut down by a cease and desist order from SquareEnix about a month ago (in fact, it was posted on the very same day I intended to submit The Rise of Magus to be posted on their site), so I'd expected that in the immediate aftermath my game probably wasn't going to get much mention. I appreciate the fact that my game was eventually brought up (and in a positive light). Maybe now I'll get more feedback from people on it and feel compelled to add a couple bonus features that I didn't get around to.


In other news, I've been playing Jason Rohrer's games lately. He's essentially a crazy independent programmer making an earnest attempt at using games as an artistic medium of expression, and for what they are, they're very good.

Primrose is a very good puzzle game, though it lacks any implicit narrative that would give it the same impact as some of his other games. The game that struck me most was Passage, and Gravitation was also a fascinating game. Between didn't impress me as much, and I'll describe why below - these games largely depend for their effect on the player not knowing what it is they're supposed to expect, so I'm going to avoid describing them as much as possible prior to my spoiler warning tag:

SPOILER WARNING (for the remainder of the post)

Ok, so now that we're past the spoiler warning, I'll spoil your ability to properly experience the games I mentioned above.

Passage is a game that presents itself as being about perception and time. The game has a set time limit, and as it progresses, your apparent position on the screen shifts (while the room moves under you as you walk around), and you are only able to clearly see that portions of the screen closest to your current appear position. This is interesting, and it's kind of touching just to see your character grow old (possibly with a partner, possibly not), but I say that this is how it "presents itself" because I think what's really interesting is the implicit subject matter: games.

Passage includes a number in the upper right that grows as you move right and as you find stars hidden in treasure chests. It also allows you to explore freely, has maze-like sections, and presents new environments as you move right. Gamers will naturally take the number in the upper-right to be your score, but it's immediately unclear that getting a high score is actually your objective. It might instead be to make as much progress right as possible, attempting to reach an unknown "destination", or it might simply be to explore the maze-like areas in the hopes of finding something interesting.

Since you only have a few minutes to play the game before your character grows old and die, you cannot do everything in one playthrough, and each time you play the game you might play it very differently. This, it seems to me, is the real point - when presented with a set of rules and a virtual environment, our nature is to find a goal and strive for it, and Passage leaves your own psychology bare as you play it.

Gravitation is very similar, this time in platformer format. You begin in a room which you can only see a small portion of, and when you "warm up" you can leap straight out of the room and up to untold heights. Eventually, however, you will start to feel "cold" again and feel your power drain out of you (and sight limit itself) - you can gain boosts of warmth by collecting stars, but you'll soon find that you get cold faster and faster afterwards until you cannot progress. At this point, you can wait forself to slowly heat up, or head back down to the beginning to stand by the fire. If you go down, you will find blocks of ice that have appeared, and you can score "points" and warm up faster by pushing them into the fire. Once you're warm, you can continue exploring above yourself.

Here's the interesting part. I started realizing as I played that collecting stars wasn't actually increasing my score, and at some point I realized that the stars, which fell after being collected, were actually becoming the blocks of ice at the bottom of the level. That is, these items that we are used to associating with bonus points (or temporary invincibility) are being subverted, and now both help and hinder my progress. For that matter, it's not clear that I am making progress, because nothing ever indicated to me that I'm supposed to be climbing up - it just seems like the correct course of action.

The experience of having your own assumptions about what it means to be playing a game brought into question was really quite exceptional. So I decided to ask my friend to play the next game in the list, Between, with me (it's mandatory multiplayer). This game presents you with the ability to spawn blocks of three colors, and the ability to travel to different "worlds" by either going to sleep (the S key) or waking up (the W key), which circle around. There's a tower that can apparently be constructed out of your blocks in each world, but after minor progress you will see that the tower requires colors you cannot make. Then, when waking one day, you find these blocks you could not have made yourself, that allow you to continue building, and they are signs of another, who you cannot see.

This is the intended concept of the game, clearly, but it simply didn't work for me. The reasons for this are fairly simple. Firstly, it didn't work because I knew that thre was another person involved...the game is multiplayer by fiat! As such the "revelation" that there was someone else affecting my game was instead a sense of "is there any other way we can interact?" followed by a resounding "no." Secondly, the objective is too clear. Now, this is possibly the only game that I will ever accuse of having an objective that's "too clear", but it's true in this case. As I mentioned, what was interesting about the last two games was the fact that the objective was obscured, and you were never sure what counted as progress. Now, I have a very clear objective before me, but the consequence is the sheer amount of work needed to complete it is also clear, and I spent most of that time recognizing that I probably would get nothing for the effort in the end - and I was right. I completed the tower and nothing happened.

I'm not sure what exactly could have been done to make Between work better. I think it is an interesting idea, but ultimately one that probably cannot be properly made into a game. If nothing else, in a game this simple it's impossible to convince me that blocks appearing is proof of "another" because the game could simply be producing the blocks for me - in a world whose rules I don't already fully know, I cannot possibly know that those rules are being broken.

In any case, that's enough for now, I recommend trying the games out if you don't already feel spoiled (and you should, there was a reason I put that warning up there!).

-Silent Ellipsis

Monday, June 1, 2009

Offline Browsers

My game, The Rise of Magus, is now available on cnet (aka download.com), and has subsequently appeared on every other site that duplicates its content.

That aside, something has occurred to me as seeming obsolete, even though I use it every day – MS Office, and in particular, MS Word. Now I’m actually using the 2003 edition of this stuff right now, so it’s possible I’m naming a few things that are anachronistic, but from my experience with Word 2007, it’s not significantly different – they’ve just made the words “File, Edit, etc.” at the top of the app into icons instead (wow).

What I’m talking about is the fact that Office applications are little standalone apps on your computer that aren’t connected to the web. It seems archaic that when I see a hyperlink in a word document, I not only have to ctrl+click, but that it opens another application to display the content for me. It seems that given just how online our computer experience is overall, I should default, when I want to write text, to a tab in my browser.

Now Google docs theoretically could serve the function I’m talking about, but for some reason I’m just not a consistent user of the service. I guess it’s because I really do need to have documents available offline, and because Google docs emphasizes collaboration so much (so that’s what I use it for).

No, I’m imagining something a little different. When I hit ctrl+t to open a new tab in my browser, I want the url bar to be there for me to use, sure, but what about the page itself? Google’s Chrome uses this to display a list of your favorite sites, but that seems kind of redundant to me, because as soon as I start typing in a url, Firefox will tell me what I’m likely looking for about 3 characters in. What I would really like is to hit ctrl+t and in addition to the ability to type in a url, have a couple of options right there, like a word processor, a file explorer, maybe even games. By and large, I feel like my browser is the center of my computer experience anyway, so why can’t some of my offline content live there, too?

I suppose what I’m really suggesting is that we get more OS-like browsers (or maybe a browser-like OS), because it feels like the distinctions between my online and offline content are relics of a bygone era when going online was something special, not the default state. I don’t know if anyone’s already working on something like this, but I’d like to see it.