TITAA #16: Atmospheric Games Edition
As a kid, I believed very strongly in magic. I guess I didn’t want to live in a world without it (I still don’t). I believed in ghosts, and elves (the dangerous kind), and stones that used to be people, and that the devil lived inside a certain hill, and that you could move things with your mind, and that broken mirrors brought certain doom, and that animals could talk, and that I would inevitably be whisked away into some kind of eldritch fantasy realm where I would have to save the day, and that dreams were messages, and that I saw an alien, and that the wind was trying to say something to me, and that the veil between worlds was thin on Halloween, and that spells found in books from the library might work, and that it was only a matter of time before The Adventure would begin...
I still believe in many of these things, not because I actually think they’re true, but because I would really, really like it if they were. I’m still hoping I can somehow will them into being. And if I ever mysteriously vanish from the face of the earth in the midst of a storm, know that I am on a Quest and I will return victorious.
AI and Generative Fun
Infinite Nature: I'm really into these infinite generated landscapes. It "works" in their colab with a GAN generated image too, although the destinations always end up being a bit alike: hills, sea, islands. This Infinite Images project from 2009 that @hardmaru shared is actually a better experience visually, I think.
Monster Mash: Generate 3D animated characters from simple drawings. Browser demo! You need to watch the tutorial video and examples to see the power.
InFillmore: Narrative In-Filling. Create stories from partial stories, picking your next preferred line. There's a demo that starts a server from a colab notebook. It could obviously use some UX help to clarify the categories of "next line" options, but it's pretty fun anyway. (Found via my own ArXiv Text Generation Papers Search site.)
If you like generative text, National Poetry Generation Month is happening again in April this year, thanks to @hugovk. If you like generative poetry in particular, here's an article about the GPT-2 project I worked on for the UK government with the brilliant Kyle McDonald.
I like Jane Friedhoff's series of articles on Games, Play and Joy, especially Part 2 on rules and Part 4 on types of play and goals. One of the simpler lists of game type or goals she cites is from the paper MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research:
Sensation (game as sense-pleasure)
Fantasy (game as make believe)
Narrative (game as drama)
Challenge (game as obstacle course)
Fellowship (game as social framework)
Discovery (game as uncharted territory)
Expression (game as self-discovery)
Submission (game as pastime)
More generative text art: I really like some of the projects in this collection of generative art, Generative Unfoldings, via Nick Montfort. There's a nice Concrete poem generator by Matt DesLauriers, a crazed math and diagrams generator with bizarre poetic figure captions by Philipp Schmitt, an evolving, growing, interactive text canvas by Qianxun Chen and Mariana Roa Oliva, and some kind of beautiful abstract sound and shape text excerpter by Karen ann Donnachie and Andy Simionato. (I have no idea what's going on.)
Other Fun Tech Refs and Tools
The DataMuse API for word finding looks amazing. You can use it to find: "words with a meaning similar to ringing in the ears," "words that start with t, end in k, and have two letters in between," "words that sound like jirraf," "words that rhyme with grape that are related to breakfast," "adjectives describing ocean sorted by how related they are to temperature," among other things. (But note that it was down just now when I visited.)
Gitta from Thomas Winters is an interesting option for generating context-free grammars (e.g. for Tracery) from simple text examples. It doesn't produce what I'd expect from all input examples, but it could be useful for small problems. As usual, the set of samples it's given is crucial.
This virtual 3D map and photo tour of Marseille by LaPhase5 is really nice. My friend Nicolas Barradeau (@nicoptere) worked on the map and photo views and has a nice how-he-did-it writeup here.
If you like 3D maps, three-geo looks pretty cool. Great demos (pick a map spot, build terrain with satellite imagery in 3D with elevation in z).
Games to Get You Out of Town and Into a New Headspace
Even before this rather silly WaPo article about games as travel destinations, I've been on a hunt for games with a strong sense of atmosphere to take me away. As I've said, I got a VR headset, and that remains my best "get-out-of-town" cure; but traditional PC games have been helpful too. I'm primarily looking for budget (under $20) and sale games at the moment, and luckily I have years of good stuff to catch up on! I also asked some friends in a gamer-full chat for ideas and have included their suggestions below. (Btw, there are filters on Steam for "atmospheric" and "story-rich" and other useful attributes. I find their search and recommendation tools pretty good.)
If you were following along above, the games in this list below are primarily games of sensation, narrative, discovery and fantasy.
What Remains of Edith Finch is a rather gothic story set in an abandoned, ramshackle house on Orcas Island in the Pacific Northwest. We learn the fates of the members of the cursed Finch family as we explore the house's locked rooms and secret passages and read their diaries and look at their pictures. I loved this. The writing and text animation effects are great. It totally transported me.
Dear Esther allows you to explore a Scottish Hebridean island scattered with standing stones, flowers, ruined ships, and weird caves à la Jeff VanderMeer. The only game play is wandering around and hearing the (sad) back story, and I played it in one sitting.
The Long Dark is a survival game set in the frozen Canadian wilderness. I die often and have not gotten far. But it is definitely an out-of-town feeling and makes you grateful for heat and food and a roof.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, a mystery-horror game that used photogrammetry for photo realistic scenes in 2014 (a remastered edition is also sold with it now) -- thanks to Jacob for this mention. I haven't played yet, but it's on sale now!
Flower is a beautiful experiential game, where you flow around a field scattering flowers and feeding the land, kind of?
Abzû is a meditative beautiful underwater exploration game, suggested by Florencia Minuzzi of Tea-Powered Games. It's very pretty.
Everything lets you be a tourist of the connected universe, narrated by Alan Watts. Suggested by Florencia.
Playne, a meditation game in VR, features a fox guide who is disappointed at you if you haven't been practicing enough. And an environment that responds and grows as you do practice. (My fox is very disappointed.)
Not-So-Dark Story Games
Eastshade is a traveling artist cozy game set on a pretty island, recommended as a favorite by friends Aaron A. Reed and Jacob. It's on sale till March 29. It has a trope in it that you need to explore and experience new things in order to have creative mojo. Here, here! Also, bummer.
Firewatch, a well-loved mystery story set in Montana wilderness, was also cited by Florencia Minuzzi; I've been meaning to play it for ages but am waiting for the time to dedicate properly. It's on sale, grab it now!
Journey is a light story adventure through a mysterious dessert world of abandoned monuments and blowing sands. It's very pretty (I'm not done yet).
A Short Hike was recommended by Aaron A. Reed (it is a cute island-explorer adventure) and a little nameless bird recommender; and I also add Alba: A Wildlife Adventure for another island explorer: in which a little girl cleans up trash, rescues dolphins, and takes pictures of birds.
A Hat in Time is fun if you're in the mood for colorful and silly, says Florencia.
If you have a Switch, then Xenoblade Chronicles and Chronicles 2 have "really lovely, varied sweeping outdoor fantastical spaces which you spend a lot of time running around in and feeling rather small (in a good way)," says Destina Connor from Tea-Powered Games.
Elder Scrolls Online was recommended by Shoshannah Tekofsky as an atmospheric world to wander in, even apart from the game content.
Paper Beast, which has both VR and non-VR, is gorgeous, alien, fascinating. You are on an alien world with critters made out of paper and geometric shapes. Entrancing, I love it while thinking "what is going on" and trying to help them.
A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine (sequel to A Memory Called Empire, which I also recommend): This was a fine space opera-y sequel with inexplicable aliens and alien-language, politics on the Station and in Teixcalaan, featuring Three Seagrass and an intrepid young heir to the throne who goes on many spy missions.
Dead Space by Kali Wallace: A good mystery-on-a-mining-asteroid, with interesting AIs and terrorists and creepy corporate politics. I liked it enough to read...
Salvation Day by Kali Wallace: A good space thriller set on an abandoned plague ship, taken over by cultists holding hostages among whom is the only survivor of the virus, who was a kid when it all went bad.
This month's recommendation is For All Mankind on Apple TV. It's is an alternate universe history of the space program where Russia got to the moon first, both for the landing and with a female astronaut. A disappointed NASA space program tries to catch up, adding women to the program and then building a base.
I had a tough time with episode 1, which is all macho 1960ies men in fast cars and their submissive or frustrated wives; but by episode 3, when the women's program starts, the show starts! If you liked the movies Gravity, The Martian, and the book The Calculating Stars, wow, you will like this, especially season 1. (Season 2 is 10 years later but the same characters plus some new ones.)
Fun and Weird
I'm a Short Afternoon Walk and You're Putting Way Too Much Pressure On Me. Nailed me and my weekends.
Lessons From World of Warcraft's Virtual Pandemic (resulting in a Lancet article).
New York Woman Discovers Secret Apartment Behind Her Bathroom Mirror.
I did not know about the 12K year old Shigir Idol, the world's oldest known wooden relic. NYT:
Dug out of a peat bog by gold miners in 1890, the relic, or what’s left of it, is carved from a great slab of freshly cut larch. Scattered among the geometric patterns (zigzags, chevrons, herringbones) are eight human faces, each with slashes for eyes that peer not so benignly from the front and back planes. The topmost mouth, set in a head shaped like an inverted teardrop, is wide open and slightly unnerving.
The Siberian Times piece has more pictures than the NYT, it's totally worth a look.
The day was mild, the light was generous.
The German on the café terrace
held a small book on his lap.
I caught sight of the title:
Mysticism for Beginners.
Suddenly I understood that the swallows
patrolling the streets of Montepulciano
with their shrill whistles,
and the hushed talk of timid travelers
from Eastern, so-called Central Europe,
and the white herons standing—yesterday? the day before?—
like nuns in fields of rice,
and the dusk, slow and systematic,
erasing the outlines of medieval houses,
and olive trees on little hills,
abandoned to the wind and heat,
and the head of the Unknown Princess
that I saw and admired in the Louvre,
and stained-glass windows like butterfly wings
sprinkled with pollen,
and the little nightingale practicing
its speech beside the highway,
and any journey, any kind of trip,
are only mysticism for beginners,
the elementary course, prelude
to a test that's been
--Mysticism for Beginners, by Adam Zagajewski, translated by Clare Cavanagh.
Woot, this was a long post. I hope you enjoyed it. My department in France just locked down further, and shots are nowhere to be seen, so I won't be traveling except virtually for a long time. Feel free to send me atmospheric game and VR recs.
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Hang in there, Lynn / @arnicas