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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GoldieBlox commercial wins the internet over

This commercial’s taking the internet by storm, because who doesn’t love Beastie Boys, girl engineers, and Rube Goldberg devices.

Some time ago, I wrote about the kickstarter for this project, and how I could live with the pinkification it took to sell these engineering projects for girls to parents already steeped in rigid gender roles. Looking at this commercial, though I love the commercial itself, I sort of feel like it’s overselling the product.

See, the actual product introduces a specific goal and a narrative in the form of a story book, drastically limiting the engineering potential of any one set. There’s only so much you can do with the ribbon and sticks and crank, so letting your imagination run wild doesn’t seem really, truly all that possible.

As a gateway into the wider world of toys, though, if GoldieBlox leads any girl to ask her parents for LEGO or K’Nex or some other engineering toy, I feel like it’s worth it — even if it requires not only retraining girls that it’s okay to like “doing things” instead of “being pretty”, but also getting in under parents’ gender policing radars.

And everyone loves a Rube Goldberg device. Hopefully inventive girls with enough toys can invent all sorts of crazy devices, if unfettered by the prescribed play mode.

River City Ransom: Underground kickstarter

Holy shitting fuck, you guys have to see this. There’s a kickstarter by some indie devs by the name of Conatus Creative, with a not insignificant amount of Canadian developers, has the official license for an honest-to-goodness sequel to the king of 8-bit fighters, River City Ransom.

Their goal is met for Apple, Linux and Windows development, but they have flex goals for consoles. And you could get your name in the game — or your likeness, or your favorite quote — by funding at one of their higher tiers.

I totally wish I had the dosh to throw at this right now. I cannot wait to see this game. The Scott Pilgrim homage was good, but it wasn’t quite all I was hoping a modern RCR would be. This, on the other hand, would be 24 hour gameathon fodder.

(If you don’t know what the original was, here’s a great review, proving the vlogger, PixellatedMemories, eerily prescient by the end.)

Hat tip to David Rolfe who knew me well enough to know this was right up my alley.

Pat Robertson: “Virtual Sin” is as bad as real sin

I must be a genocidal maniac for having murdered so many video game characters. I must also be a racecar expert, and a canny businessman, and an expert marksman, a seasoned space traveller and terrestrial archaeologist, and an athelete extraordinaire, with superpowers of all stripes, and an endless series of chances at getting things just exactly right in my life.

I will say this for Pat: he’s right that playing video games cut me off from God. I have previously told you that my childhood was steeped in video games, and that one of the major video games was Final Fantasy, which included a number of mythological figures treated in the same category as mythological figures from the Bible. That was formative for me. I realized that they were in fact the same category, and it helped me free myself from the shackles of belief in a non-existent supernatural entity.

If video games helped loose me from those bonds, I feel as though it is my duty on this planet to create video games and loose others from those bonds. Though, I am keenly aware that my experience is unlikely to be anything like universal, I do have to admit that I do have a pull toward creating games. I don’t have anything like the time it would take, or financial freedom to quit my day job, though.

What would you folks like to see in a video game that could theoretically help kids deconvert?