Week 183

And so the last work­week of the year has come to an end. I’ve just wrapped some going-away gifts for Wieger and Syl­van, who have been interns at Hub­bub for the past four months. I’ve put togeth­er a lit­tle sur­vival kit con­tain­ing every­thing a junior agent of Hub­bub needs to make it out in the big bad world.

It’s been a rel­a­tive­ly qui­et week, with some work on Maguro, which will kick off prop­er­ly in the new year when all of the team is back on deck. Alper has start­ed doing some small soft­ware pro­to­typ­ing of the basic game­play. Pro­to­types over ideas, that’s how I pre­fer to do things.

I went over to the Nether­lands Film Fes­ti­val to look back on our col­lab­o­ra­tion as part of the PLAY Pilots project. Seems like we’re both keen to do more work togeth­er in 2011, which is nice.

I was at Media­mat­ic wednes­day night to do an Ignite talk on the work that’s been going on at Hub­bub. That went quite well (I was glad to have prac­ticed the thing a few times, because the time pres­sure is killer). I’ll post slides and a tran­script to the Hub­bub blog soon­ish.

I man­aged to squeeze in some shenani­gans in the snow too. A nice fol­low up to last friday’s snow fight, this time I rode a too-fast-for-my-own-good sleigh down the side of the old city for­ti­fi­ca­tions towards the moat and almost col­lid­ed with a dog and a lit­tle kid. I man­aged to stay dry though. That was fun.

And with that it is time to sign off. I start­ed writ­ing these wee­knotes at the begin­ning of this year and wasn’t at all sure if I would keep it up. Turns out I did, and I have to say it’s been a plea­sure to write these for the most part.

Even so, I don’t think I’ll keep writ­ing these here in 2011. Most of my work now hap­pens at Hub­bub so I’ll be writ­ing the occa­sion­al update over at the blog there.

When it comes to the link posts, I used to do this with Deli­cious, but like many I’ve made the switch to Pin­board last week. I don’t think I’ll reac­ti­vate link posts, so if you want to fol­low the book­marks, fol­low me there.

And of course there’s my per­son­al Twit­ter account, and the Hub­bub one. That might be eas­i­est in fact although maybe a bit over­whelm­ing at times.

All that’s left to say is thank you for read­ing this, have a mer­ry Christ­mas a hap­py new year, and I will catch you again some­time some­where.

Are games media or design objects?

In a recent post on the Edge blog — which, if you con­sid­er your­self a games design­er, you absolute­ly must read — Matt Jones asks:

Why should pock­et cal­cu­la­tors be put on a pedestal, and not Peg­gle?”

He writes about the need for games to be appre­ci­at­ed and cri­tiqued as design objects. He points out that the cre­ation of any suc­cess­ful game is “at least as com­plex and coor­di­nat­ed as that of a Jonathan Ive lap­top”. He also spec­u­lates that rea­sons for games to be ignored is that they might be seen pri­mar­i­ly as media, and that main­stream design crit­ics lack lit­er­a­cy in games, which makes them blind to their design qual­i­ties.

Read­ing this, I recalled a dis­cus­sion I had with Dave Mal­ouf on Twit­ter a while back. It was sparked by a tweet from Matt, which reads:

it’s the 3rd year in a row they’ve ignored my sub­mis­sion of a game… hmmph (L4D, fwiw) — should games be seen as design objects? or media?”

I prompt­ly replied:

@moleitau design objects, for sure. I’m with mr Lantz on the games aren’t media thing.”

For an idea of what I mean by “being with Mr. Lantz”, you could do worse that to read this inter­view with him at the Tale of Tales blog.

At this point, Dave Mal­ouf joined the fray, post­ing:

@kaeru can a game be used to con­vey a mes­sage? We know the answer is yes, so doesn’t that make it a form of media? @moleitau”

I could not resist answer­ing that one, so I post­ed a series of four tweets:

@daveixd let me clar­i­fy: 1. some games are bits of con­tent that I con­sume, but not all are

@daveixd 2. ulti­mate­ly it is the play­er who cre­ates mean­ing, game design­ers cre­ate con­texts with­in which mean­ing emerges.

@daveixd 3. think­ing of games as media cre­ates a blind spot for all forms of pre-videogames era play”

@daveixd that’s about it real­ly, 3 rea­sons why I think of games more as tools than media. Some more thoughts: http://is.gd/5m5xa @moleitau”

To which Dave replied:

@kaeru re: #2 all mean­ing regard­less of medi­um or media are derived at the human lev­el.”

@kaeru maybe this is seman­tics, but any chan­nel that has an ele­ment of com­mu­ni­cat­ing a mes­sage, IMHO is media. Tag & tic-tac-toe also.”

@kaeru wait, are you equat­ing games to play to fun? But I’m lim­it­ing myself to games. I.e. role play­ing is play, but not always a game.”

At this point, I got frus­trat­ed by Twitter’s lack of sup­port for a dis­cus­sion of this kind. So I wrote:

@daveixd Twit­ter is not the best place for this kind of dis­cus­sion. I’ll try to get back to your points via my blog as soon as I can.”

And here we are. I’ll wrap up by address­ing each of Dave’s points.

  1. Although I guess Dave’s right about all mean­ing being derived at the human lev­el, what I think makes games dif­fer­ent from, say, a book or a film is that the thing itself is a con­text with­in which this mean­ing mak­ing takes place. It is, in a sense, a tool for mak­ing mean­ing.
  2. Games can car­ry a mes­sage, and some­times are con­scious­ly employed to do so. One inter­est­ing thing about this is on what lev­el the mes­sage is car­ried — is it told through bits of lin­ear media embed­ded in the game, or does it emerge from a player’s inter­ac­tion with the game’s rules? How­ev­er, I don’t think all games are made to con­vey a mes­sage, nor are they all played to receive one. Tic-Tac-Toe may be a very rough sim­u­la­tion of ter­ri­to­r­i­al war­fare, and you could argue that it tells us some­thing about the futil­i­ty of such pur­suits, but I don’t think it was cre­at­ed for this rea­son, nor is it com­mon­ly played to explore these themes.
  3. I wasn’t equat­ing games to play (those two con­cepts have a tricky rela­tion­ship, one can con­tain the oth­er, and vice-ver­sa) but I do feel that think­ing of games as media is a prod­uct of the recent video game era. By think­ing of games as media, we risk for­get­ting about what came before video games, and what we can learn from these toys and games, which are some­times noth­ing more than a set of social­ly nego­ti­at­ed rules and impro­vised attrib­ut­es (Kick the can, any­one?)

I think I’ll leave it at that.

Sketching in code — Twitter, Processing, dataviz

Sketch­ing is the defin­ing activ­i­ty of design writes Bux­ton and I tend to agree. The genius of his book is that he shows sketch­ing can take on many forms. It is not lim­it­ed to work­ing with pen­cils and paper. You can sketch in 3D using wood or clay. You can sketch in time using video, etc. Bux­ton does not include many exam­ples of sketch­ing in code, though.1 Pro­gram­ming in any lan­guage tends to be a hard earned skill, he writes, and once you have achieved suf­fi­cient mas­tery in it, you tend to try and solve all prob­lems with this one tool. Good design­ers can draw on a broad range of sketch­ing tech­niques and pick the right one for a giv­en sit­u­a­tion. This might include pro­gram­ming, but then it would need to con­form to Buxton’s defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of sketch­ing: quick, inex­pen­sive, dis­pos­able, plen­ti­ful, offer min­i­mal detail, and sug­gest and explore rather than con­firm.

I have been spend­ing some time broad­en­ing my sketch­ing reper­toire as a design­er. Before I start­ed inter­ac­tion design I was most­ly into visu­al arts (draw­ing, paint­ing, comics) so I am quite com­fort­able sketch­ing in 2D, using sto­ry­boards, etc.2 Sketch­ing in code though, has always been a weak spot. I have start­ed to rem­e­dy this by look­ing into Pro­cess­ing.

As an exer­cise I took some data from Twit­ter — one data set was the 20 most recent tweets and the oth­er my friends list — and decid­ed to see how quick I could cre­ate a few dif­fer­ent visu­al­iza­tions of that data. The end results were:

Today's start - timeline

one: a time­line that spa­tial­ly plots the lat­est tweets from my friends — show­ing den­si­ty at cer­tain points in time; or how ‘noisy’ it is on my Twit­ter stream,

Neatly centred now

two: an order­ing of friends based on the per­cent­age of their tweets that take up my time­line — who’s the loud­est of my friends?,

Bugfix – made a mistake in the tick mark labels

three: a graph of my friends list, with num­ber of friends and fol­low­ers on the axes and their total num­ber of tweets mapped to the size of each point.

The aim was not to come up with ground­break­ing solu­tions, or fin­ished appli­ca­tions.3 The goal was to exer­cise this idea of sketch­ing in code and use it to get a feel for a ‘com­plex’ data set, iter­at­ing on many dif­fer­ent ways to show the data before com­mit­ting to one solu­tion. In a real-world project I could see myself as a design­er do this and then col­lab­o­rate with a ‘prop­er’ pro­gram­mer to devel­op the final solu­tion (which would most like­ly be inter­ac­tive). I would choose dif­fer­ent sketch­ing tech­niques to design the inter­ac­tive aspects of a data-visu­al­iza­tion. For now I am con­tent with Pro­cess­ing sketch­es that sim­ply out­put a sta­t­ic image.

Tools & resources used were:

If as a design­er you are con­front­ed with a project that involves mak­ing a large amount of data under­stand­able, sketch­ing in code can help. You can use it to ‘talk’ to the data, and get a sense of its ‘shape’.

  1. There is one involv­ing Phid­gets and Max/MSP, a visu­al pro­gram­ming solu­tion for phys­i­cal com­put­ing. []
  2. Some exam­ples include a mul­ti-touch project I did for InUse and a recent pre­sen­ta­tion at TWAB 2008. []
  3. I don’t think any of these visu­al­iza­tions are very pro­found, they’re inter­est­ing at best. []