Stephen [Edwin] King tells us that associating otherwise unrelated ideas in an original way is the key to creating an interesting novel. In a magazine-article he read that paranormal phenomena of the ‘Poltergeist’ kind are prone to appear in the vicinity of adolescent youths. He associated this story with his recollections of some outcast girls who attended school with him. The plot of “Carrie” was born and this novel paved the road to King’s incredible success … are you ready? Are you hanging at the edge of your seat? Not long ago during some quiet moments sitting at the window and wondering at the disturbing beauty of the city at nighttime in winter I suddenly brought together the following three ideas: My fondness of the pictures of M. C. Escher when I still was a kid, the experience of the horizon suddenly spinning clockwise at break-neck speed when I was training for my pilot’s licence, and playing “Quake 3 Arena” (Q3A). Quite unrelated those thoughts, aren’t they? Word has it that Picasso once said, the only thing he regrets is never to have done a graphic novel. If his fellow artist M. C. Escher still would be alive, he might well create a computergame like that:
Imagine a death-match type first person shooter like Q3A. The map you are running through looks like Escher’s “Relativity” or “Another World”. Your enemies are not only running on the floor, but on the walls and ceiling, too. You see an enemy running on a wall. He jumps and in midair he suddenly does half a somersault and lands with his feet on the opposite wall where he continues to run. You try it yourself and you jump as high as you can … and you get sucked to the ceiling where you land on your feet. The former floor is now ceiling to you and vice versa. The experience will be very much like doing aerobatics with a plane. The horizon, and with it the whole gamespace, will suddenly tilt violently, adjusting the player’s view to the new plain of reference when entering its field of gravity. Continuously maintaining a real-time mental representation of the threedimensional gamespace, relative to the player character’s position and orientation will be as challenging a task, as the one a fighter-pilot has to cope with when engaged in a dogfight.
To illustrate the matter have a look at Escher’s “Relativity” above. As a kid I wished, I could throw a ball into this ‘room’, because I wondered how it would behave.
John Carmack, when you read this, feel free to contact me ;-)
Finally the website of my ‘cyberanthropological’ research-project “maxmod” has seen the light of day ( URI: http://xirdal.lmu.de )—its twin, the accompanying weblog will follow soon. Since 2002 when I started to develope this project I am doing ‘thick participation’ in an online-community. The core-interest and shared practice of the community’s members is the modification of professional computergame software — “Max Payne” and “Max Payne 2″ in particular. Have a look at the abstract and the description of the project (work in progress) if you want to learn more about it—how it’s done, what are the goals, what is the relevance, etc. For everybody interested in doing research on ‘cyberculture’ my commented, enhanced, and ever growing list of literature may be especially worthwhile—prey on it!
games without frontiers by Aki Järvinen accompanies the Ph.D.-thesis he is working on: Games without frontiers: Theories and methods for game studies. Aki Järvinen’s gaming diary, the table of contents (includes thesis background), and chapters in progress of his thesis are online. ” I respect many kinds of approaches to the study of games and players, just as long as the researchers play games themselves.”—Aki Järvinen
Since “Writing Culture” (Clifford & Marcus 1986) there is a lot of discussion about writing ethnographies in literary style(s). In my view the discussions inside visual anthropology deals with quite the same set of problems and issues transponed to the media still photography and moving image. Somehow hypermedia, the computer, and the Internet merge all this together. So every cyber/anthropologist doing work visibly online (like me here) sooner or later has to try to get wiser from writing culture and visual anthropology. Tobias Rees’ paper “Writing culture — Filming Culture” (Rees 1998) comes in handy, in my opinion. [One advantage of the paper is the fact that it is online; the drawback is: despite of the English title it is written in German.]
Three titles I haven’t laid on hands yet, but definitely will: Half-Life 2: Raising the bar, The making of Doom II, and Masters of Doom: How two guys created an empire and transformed pop culture. When I was a kid I was tremendously thrilled by the Star-Wars movies (and still am today, I confess). This also is the root of a string of associations of mine which culminate in this research-project. With putting Star-Wars related items on sale, George Lucas started what today is well known as ‘merchandising’. I never bought a Skywalker-puppet or the like, but I went lengths for those making-of books and portfolios, sporting the beautiful production and concept paintings and drawings [check out the christmas cards!] by Ralph McQuarrie — like this early concept-sketch of Darth Vader you can see on the left.
Of course merchandising is nothing new to computergames, but with those three books it enters the Lucas-league.
HODGSON, DAVID. 2004. Half life 2: Raising the bar.
KENT, STEVEN L. 2004. The making of Doom III.
KUSHNER, DAVID. ????. Masters of Doom: How two guys created an empire and transformed pop culture.
The day before yesterday I got Half Life 2 (HL2) and installed it in the afternoon. Although Steam is kind of embarassing it worked fine. Then, still being in the office, I started to play it. And I have to say it is absolutely amazing, stunning, and whatnot. In the evening I continued to play until 2AM yesterday. I do not yet know how to make screenshots ingame, but I definitely have to work that out. There was one scene/incident in a concrete water-reservoir, diving in the water, a corpse of a killed combine-policeman floating above me, and the bubble trails of the projectiles fired at me by his colleague from above, around me. It definitely was the most immersive moment in a computergame I ever experienced—pun intended. As soon as I know how to take screenshots I will try to restage that scene and then will try to provide an atmospheric picture.
“The White Room is a set of photographic prints resulting from an in-game photo shoot that documents a series of constructed disasters. These interiors were set up by the artist using the videogame Max Payne 2, a ‘Film Noir’ thriller that tells a tale of lost love, deception and betrayal. The shoot took place within the game’s developer mode using the GOD and GETALLWEAPONS cheats and BenDMan’S ‘bloody mod 1.2′. By transforming the game environment into a ready-made urban studio space, the objects and interiors were altered using the in-game weapons with the gore from dead enemies being used to ‘paint’ the sets before being unceremoniously blasted out of view and the scene captured. The events implied never happened in the game, they are not representations of ‘real-life’ crimes nor are they illustrations of fictional crime stories. These are silent witnesses, containers demanding context, they are waiting places.”
Having returned from the last LAN-party (the Fighternight 6) — where I again was fragged big time. Lucky me that we didn’t play one second of Counter Strike (CS) ;) — I am very much into Quake 3 Arena (Q3A) again. At the LAN someone had a movie of some Q3A grand champion doing incredible jumps, stunts, and tricks. If, following Harold Schechter, the comicbook superheroes are the new gods (Schechter 1980), they meanwhile have evolved into computergame characters. And among this breed there is an absolute upper class, the creme of the Pantheon, if you wish: the hardcore champion players. Imagine that: Your avatar inside the game already can do things, humans are not capable of. Great deal, agreed. But then there is the top of the heap of the players, and by sheer skill they can make the avatars do things unseen before — and of which the average player (I am not a mediocre player, I am a genuinely bad one) can not do and may even never have dreamed of. I wonder if the game-developers have dreamed of the things those guys do inside the worlds they have designed. So I wandered around the net and found an amazing movie-collection at planetquake3. I downloaded some, watched them and am completely stunned. Now I go back to what I should do at the moment: Writing a concept paper for the university.
edit: No concept paper yet, instead I learned how to do the ‘plasma-lift’.
In respect to their graphical style computergames and their modifications can be sorted into a continuum ranging from photorealism to uttermost graphical abstraction. Most of the ↵mods created by members of the ↵MP-community are located towards the middle of the continuum—maybe with a slight tendency in the direction of photorealism. This may well be determinated to a certain degree: Firstly the original MP-games are located near the same spot. And the majority of the modders seems to be inclined to emulate the style of the creators of the original game. The ↑official modding tutorials by ↑Remedy of course suggest exactly that style—accordingly the engine and the released tools are optimized for it, too. Secondly most of the available textures match said style, too. Not just the textures of the original games, but also most suitable textures to be found scattered all over the net.
The farther a modder tries to break away from the “determinated” graphic style, the more work and effort this means. But exactly that is what modders are going for. Which is a part of the explanation of the fact, why ↵TCs are in the highest esteem inside the community. The heretofore unseen, not-yet-experienced, the creative original stuff is the ultimate goal and desire—both of modmakers and -consumers.
On the other hand a part of the reason for the longing for TCs may well also lie in the scarcity of original twists in mods (storywise) and gameplay-tweaks.
The screenshot-clippings above are taken from [left to right]: ↵Max Payne [the original game], and the modifications: ↑The Family, ↑Polar Payne, ↑XiaoXiao, and ↑Sketchbook Sam. The creators of the original game clearly went for photorealism. In fact Max Payne was the first computergame wherein phototextures were extensively used. in The Family the realism was kept, but in order to create the film-noir ambience, everything was reduced to greyscale. The cartoonesque Polar Payne recreates feeling and action of Tex-Avery-style classic cartoons like Tom&Jerry. XiaoXiao was inspired by the ↵original movies by Zhu Zhq and features stick-figures in 3D-space. Sketchbook Sam is by far the most radical approach, reducing the MP-engine universe to a 2D-sidescroller.
Nigeria, fraud, and counter-fraud
Years ago, at the very beginning of my “journeys into cyberspace”, I was quite careless with my e-mail address. As a result I became the target of junk-mails, spam-mails and what you have. Meanwhile I’ve got a powerful firewall and filter which kicks all of them into killfile-oblivion. Only two categories of junk-mails still manage to sneak through: A heap of advertisement from Korea (Which I can’t even read—the bot ignores the most obvious of all ‘cultural borders’, the language-barrier-reef. ‘Cause of that those advertisements vanish into oblivion, too.) and mails from Nigeria which promise midean fortunes to me … and others. My poor old e-mail address (which I still keep for nostalgia’s sake and as a default-option) has fallen prey to the ↑Nigerian-Connection’s search-bot.
“This is really a very interesting adoption of culture, isn’t it?” — that was KerLeone’s comment on the Nigeria Connection back in 2002. The ↑advance fee fraud scheme (that has been in existence through regular postal mail for more than 20 years) via e-mail now is internationally known as ↑419 Scam — so named after ↑Nr. 419 of Chapter 38 of the Nigerian ↑Criminal Code Act which applies to it. The problems with those frauds from Nigeria, which exist since about 1989, grew bigger, the conmen ↑scored ↑big wins and ↑serious incidents have taken place: People who have been lured to Nigeria have been abducted or even murdered. Police forces all over the world go for lengths to fight the scammers: “In one month alone, in the summer of 1995, [U.S. Secret Service] agents extricated seven U.S. victims from Nigeria, though one American was murdered [...]“ Apart from this dramatic ‘real-life’ efforts authorities and others have ↑public education ↑material about 419 online. Nevertheless, maybe due to the nature of the internet or humanity itself, the scamming goes on.
P.T. Barnum once complained: “You can’t cheat an honest man.”—at other times this saying is attributed to the king of con-men, Joseph R. “The Yellow Kid” Weil. By that logic, if a greedy person is a good target, a professional con-man makes the best “mark”, or “mugu”, to use the Nigerian scammers’ own term, of all. Consequently this ‘adoption of culture’ has been adopted itself, the scammers have new enemies who entangle them into a complex play of ↑tricksterish reality-satire, deception, and counter-deception, the ↑scambaiters: “Baiting a scammer involves replying to the emails with the knowledge it is all a scam. Often the scammer will think you are a real victim and try their best to extract money.” There are different reasons for scambaiting, some want to create amusing stories, others want to educate the public, and some even want to reverse the scam and receive a few token dollars. ↑The ↑hilarious ↑results ↑can ↑be ↑viewed ↑online.