The video game that would REALLY keep you up at night

I’m no stranger to losing sleep over video games, though usually in a positive context, e.g. that the game is fun and I don’t notice the time. But what if I was to tell you the story of a video game that was literally designed to steal your ability to sleep… among other things? Sounds far-fetched, right? Read on, gentle reader.

In 1981, Atari had created an extraordinarily innovative video game called Tempest. This game, originally imagined as a 3-D remaking of Space Invaders, had players pilot a spacecraft on the near end of a “tube” that extended into the distance on a display, using now-primitive but then new and innovative colour vector-based graphics (as opposed to raster-based graphics, the more traditional pixellated, hand-drawn art). Vector graphics weren’t new at the time, having been used for other games like Asteroids, but the addition of colour with Atari’s “Color Quadrascan” shadow mask technology, developed to compete with raster games, was a significant step forward. The game also featured differing playing boards at each level, with different geometric shapes making up the “tube”, rather than the usual incremental difficulty increases on an identical board that video games til then had used to ratchet up the pressure on players as games went on. And it even featured the ability to choose your starting level based on performance in a previous game, so veterans wouldn’t necessarily have to play through the initial levels over again while attempting to cause the game to roll the level or points counts over. This marked the first video game continue option — though a later raster game called Fantasy implemented it in its more traditional form.

This post isn’t really about Tempest, though. I’m really just setting the stage for what the state of the art was in 1981. If you’ll believe the urban legends, the US government, at about that time, teamed up with a German developer named Sinneslöschen (loosely translated: “Sense Erase”) in an attempt to turn the nation’s Pac-Man Fever into something a little more useful for the empire: mind control. They created a video game that kids would become addicted to, would play at every opportunity, until the mind control would kick in and they’d lose the ability to sleep or even lose their memories.
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The Legend of Ben

The Legend of Zelda is a game franchise that is much beloved, has sold millions upon millions of copies franchise-wide, and has sixteen-plus installments spanning the rough time-frame such that people prone to creating ghost stories — teenagers to young adults — have grown up with these games making a large part of their childhood. It’s honestly no surprise that a creepypasta — an internet ghost story — was created out of the game series, and in fact it seems that it was just a matter of time.

The statue of Link created by playing the Elegy of Emptiness. It's not a particularly faithful representation of Link.

The statue of Link created by playing the Elegy of Emptiness. It’s not a particularly faithful representation of Link. To people familiar with this story, this is Ben.

One game in the series, Majora’s Mask, is already incredibly dark and unusual in the series. It is one of the very few that does not take place in the Kingdom of Hyrule (or what would eventually become or once was that kingdom — there’s actually a very involved canonical timeline that connects all the games in the series). It is one of the very few games whose chief antagonist is not Ganondorf or a god, but rather, a recurring character who’s gained access to some specific magic. It is also the only game whose chief motivation is preventing the destruction of the world through the manipulation of time, attempting to forestall a natural disaster that’s about to occur — the moon is falling on Terminus, and the Skull Kid, having stolen the magical artifact called Majora’s Mask, is both the impetus for and in possession of the only way to prevent this disaster. In this game, Link has fallen into a doomed world and needs to prevent this doom; as the Mask Salesman tells him, he’s “met with a terrible fate”.

Today’s ghost story involves someone discovering that a young boy named Ben, a boy who’d once apparently owned a bootleg copy of Majora’s Mask, himself met with a terrible fate: he drowned. But then he went on to haunt this bootleg copy, and subsequently the poor hapless 4chan Paranormal board denizen who found it.
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Ghostcraft; or, how Minecraft can really be used to build anything

The extraordinarily popular building/survival game Minecraft by Mojang has revolutionized the very concept of a sandbox game. With its popularity, with its community, comes all the little things that enhance or corrupt society built by society’s own members — including myths and ghost stories.

Minecraft has been described as “LEGO for big kids”, a gigantic sandbox filled with materials that you can collect, and use to build whatever you’d like — a dirt hovel, a series of traps and defenses, a sprawling mansion, a plain old House, an elaborate train system, even relatively complex circuitry (at relatively macro scale). There are no real rules, only a gigantic overworld filled with procedurally generated trees, forests, oceans, lakes, caves and even abandoned mines and dungeons. There are two other realms you can travel to, and there is in fact a way to “win” the game, if that’s your cup of tea. You can travel to the Nether, the Minecraft equivalent of a lava-filled hell, and you can travel to The End, a strange realm from whence the Endermen enemies spawn, and you can do battle with the Ender Dragon to complete the game.

Most players just build things, though. Given the choice between playing in a sandbox, and doing battle with the neighboring town’s dragon, I can understand why the sandbox is a significantly less stressful objective. And there’s always the collaborative aspect of playing with other players on the same server — you can all work together to build great works of art, or you can compete for resources, destroy one another’s work, and steal what resources the other players have accumulated.

Given that aspect of the game is not for everyone, there’s always the option of playing a game entirely single-player, so nobody can undo all your hard work.

Except… was that another player off in the distance? He looked just like your player skin… only his eyes were entirely white. And when you went back to your home base, your accumulated treasures were missing, and all your torches replaced with redstone torches.

You thought you were alone here? Think again!
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The ghost in the Pokémon machine

In 1996, the Pokémon franchise hit the scene in Japan with its first two games for the Nintendo GameBoy: Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green. They were released at the same time using the same game engine, but with different monsters and plot; the idea was that players of the different games could trade monsters with one another, and it was necessary to trade with someone in order to collect all 150 Pokémon. (Mew, a 151st Pokémon, existed in this tier of games but was only given out as prizes for Nintendo Power competitions and other such promotions, or could be unlocked using a Gameshark or through a glitch near Lavender Town — coincidental to today’s video game urban legend.)

Lavender Town in these games was a sort of “graveyard” town, where Pokémon are put to rest in a Tower and hauntings by restless spirits of Pokémon are apparently relatively common; and it’s central to the myth that hundreds of Japanese children committed suicide in a spike in 1996, when the games were released, but only once they got to Lavender Town in their games. The myth has come to be known as “Lavender Town Syndrome”.
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Skeptech Gameathon Fundraiser – March 22nd!

Last year, the first Skeptech conference was, entirely unsurprisingly, a big success. With some big names talking about some big topics in and around the intersection of science, technology and skepticism, they’ve got a tough act to follow this year.

And yet, they seem to have managed just fine on the speakers front, with Jesse Galef, Tim Farley, and Debbie Goddard, to name a scant few.

They’re still in a drive for fundraising though, since the rocket packs they’re strapping to all these cats don’t come cheap. So, I’ve agreed to host a twelve hour gaming fundraiser telethon, with games broadcast via Twitch TV while we concurrently run a Google Hangout On Air. Brendan Murphy and Chelsea DuFresne will be the real hosts, while I play video games and run tech and probably get more than my fair share of screen time regardless. Stephanie Zvan will visit in person, as will Brianne Bilyeu; we’ll have a number of guests join us via the Hangout, including Rebecca Watson, Scicurious and Surly Amy.

From the teaser:

On the 22nd, this page will be outfitted with a Google Hangout, Twitch Stream & Chat, and an easy way to donate to the Skeptech conference (paypal).

Here are some initial incentives (more will be added):

$5 to be a member of our Organ Trail team.
At $200, we’ll buy Super Meat Boy and fail horribly.
At $1000, we’ll buy Amnesia, and play it at full-volume in the dark. You’ll be able to watch our horror on the hangout.
We hope you’ll join us! Stay tuned for a rough schedule of what we’ll be playing, who will be joining us, and when.

I don’t have this rough timeline myself, but I can reveal a few other incentives we have on tap. For $20, you can jump into the Hangouts for 15 mins and try to go all debate-club on us, while we try to multitask and out-debate you while also staying on the course on Rainbow Road in Mario Kart or some other such outlandish gaming stunt. Wanna talk about gaming handicaps, there you go.

For $100, I’ll write the blog post of your choice — you get to pick the topic, the side you want me to argue (and I’ll even steel-man some positions I’d otherwise never take or even strongly disagree with!), and you can even give me a specific phrase to work in. Minimum of 1200 words, to boot, EXCLUDING blockquotes. This is a quote-miner’s goldmine, and it could be yours for a mere hundred clams.

Or for $50, you can point me to a post by anyone on any topic, and let me blog whatever I’d like about it, taking whatever angle I so choose. Minimum 1500 words — a better value, but you don’t know necessarily what I’ll argue or how!

And I’m sure if you come up with specific gaming stunts or bounties, we could come to some arrangements. It’s interactive entertainment, all to serve a higher cause: dispelling the demons of ignorance and delusion while talking about the science and technology that proves our side is the side of angels.

See you there!

Vox Day plans on making a game with Historical Versimilitude(TM) by excluding women

It’s been a while since I’ve heard anything about Jerk-Of-All-Trades Theodore Beale, also known as Vox Day. He’s a creationist, an MRA, and a generally self-satisfied, self-proclaimed polymath. And he’s making a video game that, in his words (Manboobz link!), “does not, and will not, have a single female character in it.”

His reasoning:
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My current project-time black hole: I’m building a video game!

I generally have only a limited amount of time each day to devote to projects that don’t directly relate to life-maintenance or my job. Lately, my job has been eating up a slightly higher than usual amount of time, and I’ve developed a new goal for the new year: to create and release a video game.

Yeah. I know.

However, even if I fail at it, I’m building this game in Java, which I’ve never programmed in before. So, regardless of anything else, I’m learning a good deal, at least.

I figured I would start writing a bit about my experience designing and programming a game, and describe my roadmap and to-do list, so as to keep the blog active and still feel like I’m doing something toward the end of completing this game. Join me below the fold, if you’re interested!
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Ascension of the Jackdaw

So, Assassin’s Creed 4. You’re a pirate. It’s kinda awesome, though I’ve mostly so far only watched Ben play it rather than playing it myself. But like all games, there are glitches.

This one was amazing.

Yes, the choral music was added as a joke.

I love glitches like these in games because they illustrate a topic I always find interesting: emergent behaviour. These actions were not specifically programmed, but came out of something askew being input in some variable in all the existing equations that under normal circumstances worked perfectly sanely. It’s like how Newtonian physics works in most cases, until you get into cases near light-speed or around black holes, where you need special relativity because something wacky happens to the calculations. This was something very wacky happening to the calculations despite all the calculations working perfectly elsewhere.

The whole damn universe is a set of emergent properties for a very simple and very fundamental ruleset that probably is itself a result of some other extradimensional brane-collision or fold in the fabric of the multiverse. Time itself is an emergent property of the existence of our universe. Physics and chemistry and life, all emergent. This sort of complexity emerging from simpler rulesets is exactly why people are so frequently inclined to assume Goddidit.
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