Posts tagged ‘books’


The first actual audiobook I got through was Dune. I really only have two observations. The first is that the beginning does a pretty good job of weaving the background information in at a steady pace, preventing the reader from getting overwhelmed. The other could be a very minor spoiler if there’s anybody else who hasn’t read it.
Continue reading ‘Dune’ »

Letter To Aspiring Game Designers

One of my relatives has a son interested in game design. Though I’m not much involved, I’ve watched it enough to be able to give something of an answer:

Unfortunately, the company doesn’t do many games anymore; those we have been done were coin-operated, and often redemption (tickets; chuck-e-cheese type stuff)

I presume by the involvement of software that you are referring to computer/video games. (I’ve also dabbled in board games, but very few people are able to make a career of it) I’ve watched the industry a bit at times, but never really been involved in it. What aspect is interested in? There is programming, art, sound, production, and even ‘design’ is specializing into story/writing and mechanics (possible called ‘game design’) Aiming smaller at the casual/web/downloadable market might be an environment were multiple talents would be more common. Things may have completely changed by the time he’s making a living on it, but that could be a place to start now.

There are a few game development schools – just don’t confuse development with design. Develop is the whole thing (programming/art/etc.) and very often their brand of ‘design’ is write up a design document and then a bunch of people go build that, whether or not it’s good. Mostly I speculate; I’ve no personal experience and they may have much brighter people than I give them credit for – just make sure they are offering what you want if looking in that direction.

Otherwise, the question of schools comes back to the area he is interested in. For true game design (which I should mention is a touch gig to get) liberal arts may actually be the best bet. See the book Rules of Play (below) for an idea of the breadth required.

I haven’t looked into tools lately. I ran across Squeak EToys recently; it’s designed as a first introduction to programming in an interactive environment. Beyond that, I’d recommend finding a game framework for a dynamic language such as Python or Ruby; I also believe there is a DarkBasic that is focused on games.

Resources: – web site tied in with a publish of game industry magazines and such (you could also subscribe to Game Developer magazine I suppose) News, articles on various topics in design, programming, and trends. – my game design bookmarks; some are related to board games or weird abstract things about the ‘meaning’ of games and suchlike.


A Theory of Fun (Raph Koster) – fairly light essay on fun; illustrated.

Rules of Play (Katie Salen/Eric ZImmerman) – a textbook of game design, but in a broad sense – includes board and playground games in addition to computer.

Patterns in Game Design (Staffan Bjork/Jussi Holopainen) – more focused on computer games, but a little dry and perhaps not the best starter book.

Chris Crawford has written a couple of books; I believe The Art of Computer Game Design is available for free online, along with a lot of other writings. Just be aware, with respect to breaking into ‘The Industry’, Chris checked out of it a while ago, and many of his writings refer to a bygone age.

A Perfectly Rational Dog

One of many interesting things in the Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, amidst much other technical insight, is this reference to a ‘a perfectly rational dog.’ “The fundamental phenomenon here was originally observed by the fourteenth-century French philosopher Jean Buridan in his commentary on Aristotle’s De caelo. Buridan argued that a perfectly rational dog placed between two equally attractive sources of food will starve to death, because it is incapable of deciding which to go to first.” -SICP

Actually, later research shows this to be species swap of Buridan’s Ass, where the ass was a parody of Buriden’s writing on the De Caelo, where the example was a man torn between hunger and thirst. At least, if you believe Wikipedia.

Somehow I like the dog variation better however; perhaps Ableman ans Sussman (authors of SICP) did as well. It may simple be that dogs are more common than donkeys in the modern world.

However, I have so far managed to not mention why I’m mentioning this. You see, I am like a perfectly rational dog. Not that food is a specific problem, but I had already begun to suspect that somehow I enjoy the agony of indecision, for why else would I do it so much? At least Buriden seems to be with me here. His position (for which he drew the ass analogy) was that it was perfectly legitimate to withhold judgment until the situation becomes clearer.

New Game Patterns Book

The people from have finally published a book, Patterns in Game Design. It appears to be written mainly from a computer game design perspective, but looking through the table of contents, there appears to be some generally applicable material.

Alexander’s Magnum Opus

I finally finished book 4 (of 4) of Christopher Alexander’s 27-years-in-the-making Nature of Order series. After putting forth theories of structure, growth, and building in books 1, 2, and 3, book 4 leaves such immediately practical matters behind. (Not entirely unexpectedly, since the table of contents for all four books is printed in each) The book is titled “The Luminous Ground” – the underlying plenum of reality, the stuff that shines through, just a little, when living structure is created. You can call it god if you want; Alexander does and doesn’t; the main point he wants to make in that direction is that many of the greatest works of art were made in a religious context – as gifts to god. Ultimately, he spends more time talking about physics – the current criticism of the purely mechanistic worldview, and how these problems are resolved by integrating the “I” (aka luminous ground, aka god, aka etc.) In short, nothing nothing less than a change in our view of reality will suffice to heal the modern malease.

I tend towards what Alexander calls the psychological explanation: there is a perceivable value, and this value is fairly consistent between individuals, but this similarity has more to do with the fact that we are all humans than with the underlying nature of the universe. The best argument against this simplifying explanation is this: better results are achieved, in terms of approaching said ultimate value, when considering it ‘real’ as averse to not.

Real reading

I finally finished Rules of Play, an academic work about game design. It casts a broad net in several ways. Thus, much of the opinion I heard about it wasn’t good. Board game people were turned off by all the talk of digital games. Digital game people may have been turned off by the included paper games by ‘board game people’ like Riener Kinitza(sp?), Richard Garfield, and James Earnest. The coverage of subjects is also extremely broad. the books schemas are broken down into ‘Rules’, the down and dirty mechanics, ‘Play’, the experiences of the game, and ‘Culture’, the interaction of games with the wider world.

It is also very theoretical, which may have disappointed people looking for more practical advice. What the authors present are a system of schemes, or ways of thinking about games. Things like probably systems, psychology and motivation, narrative, and so on. This type of material appears to be geared more towards generating deep insight than helping out with routine problems. Sadly, I haven’t take time to really think about the material yet.

Now I’m working through Edward Tufte‘s books, which I got at the seminar some month’s ago. Having heard the core ideas in said seminar there is nothing revolutionary so far, but the wealth of examples will probably repay review when I have some actual information to present.

Reading (Well, Listening)

I finished the audio book of Victor Hugo’s Les Miseriables recently. Finished being the operative word: at 3 volumes of 12-15 cassettes each, it took awhile to get through this one. On top of it’s intrinsic size, I also listened to some other pieces in between to space out my library visits (just under 20 tapes per batch can be done comfortably)

Beyond a storyline that spans nearly 20 years, Hugo makes frequent and extended use of historical vignettes. It would probably not be hard to accuse him of presenting all the background material that authors are supposed to have but not belabor their readers with. However, much of this material is actually welcome context for someone far removed from early 19th century France. The vignettes are also artfully integrated; most are presented just as the become relevant (that is, the history of a location just as the character enters it.) Other times he blurs the magic circle of the story by integrating the story time and reader’s time. For instance, an extended description of the battle of Waterloo relates only in one small detail to the story proper. Yet it is presented at a time when years in the story are elapsing unseen – by the time that the text returns to the main narrative, time has passed for the reader as well as the characters. Furthermore, the connection with Waterloo only become important later in the story – by which time the description of the battle is in the distant past, just as it was in history.

Meanwhile, amidst the extensive historical accounts and occasional preachy events, are some artfully constructed situations. One character is held paralyzed, witness to a crime that he could stop at any time, but is unable to as he is torn within between loyalty to the past and the terrible reality of the present situation. In another a character who embodies the relentless application of law is discontented – indeed, destroyed – by encountering a situation where the most just action ran counter to the law. Hugo, through his character, ponders whether right action is following the law of god.

In between volumes, I also read (or heard) Darwin on Trial. It proposes that the theories of natural selection and evolution are just that – theories. While they may be the best theories that we have, the available evidence does not support them as anything like the given facts they are usually presented as. For instance, the fossil record shows long periods of stable life forms, rather than the continuous stream of incremental change evolution predicts.

Most recently was Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural. What I took away: Lincoln was a deeply religious man who struggled with the conflicts between his personal beliefs, his oath to the constitution, and the inevitable coming of civil war. In his view, the war was punishment from god visited upon both parts of the country for allowing slavery to exist, and a necessary stage in removing slavery.

Next up: Brave New World and Shindler’s List

Read this book.

The Underground History of American Education, by John Taylor gatto.

You don’t of course have to agree with it. Personally I felt like it was putting into words a lot of things I had felt for a long time. You don’t even have to buy it; the entire text is online (I personally prefer real books, and this has driven my highlighter very nearly dry) My overall impression was that Gatto thoroughly supported most of his points, often with quotes of people expressing their desire to do exactly what he is accusing them of. Even if your views differ, the grand sweep of history, psychology, religion, economics, and of course schooling will probably give you at least a few new perspectives on things.

Of course, maybe there won’t be so much new material for some people. I freely admit to squandering my college education, and not making very much of elementary, either. Of course that is precisely the point of the book – the purpose of the school system is to dull minds, not to sharpen them. It took five or six years away from schooling before I started to really thirst for knowledge.

The book covers so much ground that I can’t hope to do it justice here. One of the basic premises is that there are a number of different ways that the world can operate. Through the interaction of various different processes, the dominant world view has become safety and science. This gives us the wonders of industrial society, all our medicines, our computers, SUVs, TVs and movies. The price is tight, stifling, hierarchic control. One of the major tools used to promote this world view is the mandatory school system, which turns the great majority of people into predictable, interchangeable parts accustomed to being told what to do.

The opposite world view is total freedom and self-responsibility – which entails a healthy dose of risk. This is the world view that America was founded on. The transformation into it’s opposite view has been a slow and ponderous process; so slow that very few people noticed what was happening.

Just so you know…

I’m not really reading LJ anymore. Going back a few pages every day was a bit much. I may check in on less frequent posters now and then, but it’s too much as a daily ritual.

Meanwhile, I’m searching for a spam filtering service that will still let me use webmail from work; I actually read most of my mail while eating lunch.

I’m not sure if this comes of it’s own, or was influenced by recent audio books.

In Walden, Henery David Thorough says that he avoid the news paper; the character of which is not too much different from a journal entry.

After that, was Fahrenheit 451, which posits an future that amplifies certain undesirable elements of the modern world. Most people sit like zombies in front of super wide screen TV’s watching meaningless program full of violence and glitz. Most books are banned, and burned – Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book pages catch fire. The book posits the need for quite reflection on the big ideas frequently transmitted in books. It makes me wonder – how much of what I spend my time is part of the deluge of sensationalist media, and how much really matters?

Interconnected reading.

I remembered a book (on tape) I forgot to mention last time. The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Darkness, by Carl Sagan. It appears to be a rewritten collection of various articles, and as such has a common theme, but not a focused point. At various times Sagan praises the general virtues of science and reason, debunks new-age myths, calls for better science education, and claims that science is not incompatible with spirituality. Unfortunately, I have forgotten the exact nature of the argument, and will have to get the book at some point so I can follow it with proper attention.

While listening to this, I had the sense that it came at just the right time to reinforce my confidence in logic and common sense. Sometimes it’s so easy to wonder just why masses of people share a common belief – doesn’t there have to be something there? Well, no, Sagan reassures us – it’s mostly misinterpretation, hallucination (surprisingly common), and meme propagation.

At once supporting and challenging science is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig. I ignored this book for a long time because I took the title literally – something about performing motorcycle maintenance with a peaceful mind. Actually, the book has little to do with motorcycle maintenance. A motorcycle does often serve as a convenient example of an object (much as Schrodinger used his cat) Maintenance also serves as the stage for a discussion of quality work and maintaining spirits (‘gumption’) in the face of difficulty – but even this if followed up an explicit statement about ‘the motorcycle of life.’ It also has very little to do, explicitly, with zen, although the philosophy espoused may very well be similar to zen (it’s beyond my experience to say)

The bulk of the book is devoted a long and involved philosophical argument about truth, quality, and the classical(scientific)/romantic(artistic) split. Here he supports science by saying that the negative qualities people find in technology aren’t inherit in it. Rather, it is the lack of quality and caring that often shows in the modern age that people reject. For this, however, he does blame reason. The ancient greek philosophers, by placing truth and reason above quality, began a paradigm shift that culminated in the modern world: goods, all alike, produced in massive quantity by uncaring machines and uncaring people.

This discussion, or chautauqua, as the author calls it, is interwoven with the story of a cross country cycle trip with his son, and also with the revelation of the author’s history. The entire thing is claimed as actual fact ‘rewritten for rhetorical effect.’ Indeed it has, for the parallels between events in the two stories are frequently not subtle. Christopher Alexander would call it Deep Interlock and Ambiguity.

An interesting relation, since Pirsig’s quality strikes me with more than a passing similarity to Alexander’s life. Another interesting relation is that Pirsig would probably call Alexander a classical person trying to integrate a romantic understanding of quality.

Since I’m nearly done with The Nature of Order Book Two: The Process of Creating Life this seems like a convenient place to talk about it. Only appendices remain, so I’m pretty sure the major ideas have already been put forward.

Book One defined the concept of ‘life,’ ways to identify it, and the 15 properties that seem to reoccur in living structure. Book Two make the further claim that living structure only arises as the result of structure preserving transformations. A mostly incidental idea is that each of the 15 properties also has a related transformation, and that these are the only types of transformations which exist.

More time is spent, however, on the method of applying the transformations: examine the wholeness, find the one smallest thing you can do to improve it, do that, check to make sure it really improved things, and repeat. This defines a process, and the process is really where it’s at. If we want a better a world, we need a better process, and it is just this kind of step-by-step process that has created the most memorable things.

There is a lot more, and what I’ve said I’ve said badly. As Pirsig would say, my gumption is running low.