Monday, August 21

Check it out! Go Tatamagouche!

Tatamagouche Free School

Organic Games

I'd like to talk a little bit about my card games. I have two: one is called City Thief, or Thief in the City, or Thief: The Meta Game, and the other is called Medieval Duct Tape Combat. They are very different games, but they share certain elements: organic elements of growth and decay, elements which will be present in all games of my design, which is why my design company will be called (is called?) Organic Games.

How can a card game involve elements of growth and decay? Good question. First of all, these are not the kind of card games your grandparents played. There are no suits or ranks, pairs, runs, left bowers, bids, or any of that nonsense. These cards are made up of words: metaphors for real or imaginary things. For example, in Thief, some of the cards represent places in the City where the game takes place: a Bank, Houses, Pawn Shops, etc., or options like Hired Goons, Alarm Ringer, or Sneaky Manoever. In Medieval Duct Tape Combat, the cards represent attacks each player can use against their opponent, Vicious Two-Handed Overhead Sword Chop, perhaps. The important thing about these games is that the number of word-symbols is not limited to what was there when the players sit down to play: the pool of word-symbols, the number of concepts that are at play, gets larger as the game progresses through the direct input of the players involved. How can this happen? Simple. In Thief, certain cards allow or even require a player to add something to the game. For example, someone might draw a card called Expansion that requires them to put a new location into play, so they take a blank card, think up a suitable place, write it down along with any gameplay effects there may be, and put it into play. There are other cards a player may draw which allows them to create a card of any type. In Medieval Duct Tape Combat, creating a new card is an option available to the players at all times, and only requires the spending of a few Skill Points, which measure how much ability and momentum each player has.

In both games there are also ways cards can be destroyed: in Thief there is a card called Fire, which might destroy a location, plus there are a few cards which give players the option to destroy a card if they want to. In Medieval Duct Tape Combat, destroying the opponents cards is a key objective. From one angle, the games are about survival of the fittest: the best cards stick around, while the least effective or most vulnerable get axed.

Every card is affected by these organic processes of growth and decay, which means the games are never unchanging or static but are constantly in a state of flux. Even the rules change and grow as new cards are added and the interactions between the new and the old must be worked out. (I'm speaking mainly of Thief here, since that has had the most playtesting, and is thus the one I'm most confident in.) It is entirely possible that after several plays, none of the original cards will remain, having been completely replaced by new additions. But if this is the case, then where is the game? Is a game that has no constant elements still called a game? I think the answer is yes, but I think it's a new kind of game we haven't seen before.

I've started to think of my card games as Meta-Games, or Infinite Games: games in which the underlying structure, or skeleton, allows for the constant evolution of the cards, which are the subtance of the game. The two elements, the structure or rules and the cards themselves, form an organic whole. Players have control over what their character does during the game, but they also have limited control over the size and shape of the game itself. From James Carse's "Finite and Infite Games": "Finite players play within boundaries, infinite players play with boundaries... The task [of an infinite game] is to design rules that will allow the players to continue the game by taking limits into play... Since limits are taken into play, the play itself cannot be limited." What keeps everything together despite the constant flux of boundaries and substance is the System of game mechanics. Thief is a very flexible system that can incorporate and adapt to an enormous number of introduced concepts, a number limited only by the imagination of the players.

I've had two very successful games of Thief in the past couple of months that added lots of interesting new cards. One had seven players (Brandon, Brooke, Phil, Brooks, Peter, Emily, and myself), the other had two (me and Jesse). These games saw the introduction of a Garrotte, a Gluten-Free Bakery, a Dark Unlit House, a Twenty Dollar High, J.L.'s Pizza, a Depanneur, and a Hole in the Wall. Plus many other bugs were ironed out and new ideas were tossed around and some adopted. I find it so exciting to see what contributions each player might come up with. For me, when I play the game I see a city like London of the Sherlock Holmes stories, with gas-lit lamps and hansom cabs, and so I introduce cards that reflect that scenario. But others, who may picture a more contemporary city, add things relevant to that vision, such as a Palm Pilot©. The Palm Pilot© was one of the first cards added to the game by someone other than myself (by Jeff), and it's still around after more than three years. So far players have not had much difficulty adding new cards to the game: they just take a look around the city they have in their imagination, pick something that would make that city more fun or more real to them, and then write it down on a card.

One of the things that I like most about Thief is that nobody has to get it right the first time. Nothing is true, everything is permitted. Hanni added a card that allowed a player to do something he called Networking, but he didn't specify what that meant. He started the Networking meme, and he knew someone down the road would come up with a good idea to finish it. Nothing yet, though. Perhaps when more than one player is Networking, they can work together to make a break in. The point is, ideas can be started but they don't have to be finished. Everything can be changed around, so if something doesn't work right away, that's no problem. If you are reading this and are interested in playing, perhaps because you have an idea for what Networking does, drop me a line. I'm always up for a game.

Saturday, August 19

The Real Frank Zappa Book:

A very entertaining read, for the most part. Published in 1989, well after Zappa's most successful albums. We read about his family life, his encounteres with different political organizations, including the Parents' Music Resource Center, who wanted every album sold in stores to bear a rating not unlike a film: general to restricted, or something similar. The PMRC really gets Zappa's bile up. We get a fair amount of Zappa's bile while reading this book, and to be fair I'd rather have Zappa's bile than pretty much anyone else's, but I did have to skip portions of one chapter, called "Practical Conservatism", which had too many words in italics or caps or bold fonts and reminded me too much of a soap box. He speaks Truth, but that doesn't mean I have to take in his bitterness when I don't want it.

Otherwise immensely enjoyable, from stories of the early days in Hicktown, California, with those who would eventually show up in songs like "Let's make the Water Turn Black", to Frank's views on the synclavier. Chapter 10, "The One You've Been Waiting For" contains a few juicy road stories, but isn't as exciting as it is elucidating of Zappa's general disregard for drunken shenanigans. The chapters on his family, his four kids, wife and pets, are clearly written with the most peace and joy than the rest of the book, which has a tone of either nearly-fond reminiscence or impatience bordering on disdain, with occasional passages of "genius at work".

A worthwhile read simply because Zappa's voice is so clear; it does feel as if he is writing his thoughts down quickly with very little critical correction. Plus, the illustrations by someone who's signature resembles "AWEST" are pleasant bonus.

Saturday, August 12

From Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility by James Carse

"To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.

Education discovers an increasing richenss in the past, because it sees what is unfinished there. Training regards the past as finished and the future as to be finished. Education leads toward a continuing self-discovery, training leads toward a final self-definition.

Training repeats a completed past in the future. Education continues an unfinished past into the future."

Wednesday, August 9

Overheard at the Bookstore

"We invented punk so we wouldn't have to listen to Robert Plant singing about his penis!"

A Recommendation

Anyone who digs the Scofield - Medeski Martin & Wood collaboration A Go Go would, I think, enjoy listening to some recordings by Harvey Mandel. Mandel plays more blues and less groove, but the attitude and instrumentation are very similar. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 2

Holy hot damn you little jackass!

Today and tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday, are the last days that Cinema du Parc will be open

Tuesday, August 1

Nouns and adjectives in Tokion Issue 40 The World Records Issue

eyes are: lonely
emotion is: sweet
desire is: intense, burning
passion is: true
feelings are: fresh, free
stuff is: scary, old country, bitchy
things are: wierd, the coolest, different, interesting, goddamn, visible, non-visible, intangible, various, beautiful
people are: interesting, young, dim, shriveled, bleak, absurd, powerful, unique, retarded
individuals are: vast, creative, fearless, resilient
girls are: mod
ladies are: long, lean, langourous
women are: crazy
wives are: errant
men are: free, pleasant, young
dudes are: sketchy, bearded
kids are: white trash, tiny, muscle-bound, crazy
life is: boring, normal, not easy
cars are: expensive, unbelievable, muscle
designs are: exquisite, hand-made
design is: innovative, high, affordable, radical, hot
designers are: insect-loving
furniture is: Styrofoam
drawings are: delicately disturbing
t-shirts are: cool, dangerous
shoes are: action, classic, basketball, ultimate high performance track and field, gold
sneaker collectors are: avid
characters are: elegant, stuffed, wierd, claymation
insomnia is: terrible
landscapes are: bleak
worlds are: obscure, wide, brightly colored, visible, non-visible, competitive, just, magical
atmospheres are: creative
realms are: rarefied, scientific
environments are: unstable, poor
space is: limited
spaces are: quiet, rotating
places are: important, warm, safe, great, cozy
moments are: memorable, rare
days are: windless, bad, glory
afternoons are: rainy
sludge rockers are: legendary
cult followings are: rabid
thrones are: bloody
skycrapers are: incredible
humor is: incredible
musical skills are: incredible
relationships are: awesome
challenges are: tough, appealing
gladiolas and hearing aids are: suddenly fashionable
torchbearers are: forever lonely, tormented
symbols of self-destruction are: fascinating
forms of human expression are: immediate, powerful
responses are: frothy
magazines are: interesting, powerful, unreadable
books are: very untruthful, iconic
ways are: unpleasant, strange, unique
creativity is: dementedly out-of-control
teeth are: gritted
milk is: breast, real
movies are: long, real
film is: modern, life affirming
scripts are: incredible, unpredicatable, original
endings are: spectacular
reviews are: mixed
spitoons are: constant
death is: so far away
shit is: stupid, hippy
energy is: underlying, beast-like
rockets are: human
bastards are: phony
problems are: personal
living conditions are: strict
sanitary guidelines are: strict
natures are: relaxed, competitive
compliments are: great
jobs are: great
support is: great, tremendous, important
friends are: great
foundations are: great
blowout parties are: stupid
cats are: obese
balls of duct tape are: giant
meats are: delicious
grills are: burning
art is: interactive, functional
artists are: accomplished, local, far-away
toys are: plush, retro
beauty is: primitive
games are: extremely interesting, extremely beautiful, cool
gameplay is: logical
nicknames are: self-given
states are: oxygen-deficient
machines are: special, awsome, terrifying
DNA is: good, special
geniuses are: hapless, unappreciated
gamma rays are: stray
fashion is: poof-shouldered
heroes are: working-class
views are: romantic, nice
periods are: decadent, over-the-top
fascism is: cheap
tops are: sequin
cousins are: wierd
floors are: glass
restaurants are: revolving
hallways are: eerie
fetish destinations are: ultimate
history is: bizarre
debauchery is: reckless
memories are: intoxicated
dealers are: unique
artifacts are: unique
style is: unique
landmarks are: warm, intimate, luxurious
touches are: delicate
bands are: great, overlooked, new
music is: safe, wildly original, alien, important, truly outsider, new
roller-rink days are: unremembered
swagger is: Strokes-esque
brands of linguistic terrorism are: idiot-savant garde
tracks are: beautifully innocent, cut-up, high-quality, digital
sonic meanderings are: flamboyant, unapologetically grandiose
album covers are: misleading
dub outings are: bass-heavy, modern, digital
gloss-house is: Ibiza-friendly, minimal
overtones are: beautifully melodic, escapist
beginnings are: chaotic, art-punk
crushes are: secret
candy bars are: deep-fried
louts are: lager-swigging
bottoms are: saggy
devices are: cheap-ish
manflesh is: feeble, stinking
power is: mighty
planets are: tragic
cheese is: melted
lawyers are: douchey
vibes are: bad
hills are: rolling
porno is: hot
sex is: awkward
youths are: desperate
babes are: blood thirsty
silence is: complete
saxophones are: broken
living is: discordant
fingernails are: long, spiralling
dens are: smokin’
bar tabs are: high
driving is: white knuckle
somethings are: pleasant