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Angry Birds is an iphone game where you use a slingshot to propel exploding birds (yes, really) at various structures containing pigs, which you're trying to kill by hitting directly or by causing the structures to collapse on them.  

The funny thing about Angry Birds is that it's actually not a great game in one sense -- while playing the game takes some skill, skill is no guarantee of success.  

The trouble is that your only control method,  the angle at which the bird is launched from the slingshot, is the input to a chaotic system with sensitive dependence on initial conditions.  If you launch the bird at an angle of 72 degrees, it hits a block off to one side and then stops.  If you launch the bird at 73 degrees, it hits the same block off to the side a little bit harder, which starts a crazy chain reaction that causes much of the structure to collapse.  If you launch the bird at 74 degrees, it hits the block even harder, and the force whacks another block way out of place, but it does so in such a way that the structure remains standing, making it even harder to hit the pigs.  Basically, it's the butterfly effect, the favorite metaphor of chaos theorists to describe phenomena like the weather where tiny changes in initial conditions make a big difference.  

Since you can't precisely aim the birds, it's difficult to control the angle -- you just know that you sometimes get good results from hitting a particular area.  

If you graphed the score you got from the full range of launch angles, it probably would have fairly chaotic properties in high-scoring regions.  It would probably look like a one-dimensional version of this, which is a map of which magnet a pendulum ends up attracted to when started from different angles:

See those messy regions?  Those are areas where your predictive power is diminished, where the score isn't up to you but instead up to something effectively outside your control.  Psychologists have a name for this -- partial reinforcement.  This basically means you only sometimes get rewarded for a behavior.  The ironic thing is that this is more effective at entraining that behavior than full reinforcement.  

There are other sports, such as bowling, that also exhibit these chaotic characteristics, but good bowlers have found a stable region in the chaos that they can hit consistently.  

Angry Birds, once you reach a basic level of prowess, is less like a game of skill and much more like something else entirely -- a slot machine.  
mattbell: (Default)
If there was a *book* about a blue hedgehog that spins himself into a featureless orb as he dashes through an island filled with strange and highly distinct biomes, each meticulously constructed to both let him both revel in the pleasure of moving as fast as possible yet threaten him with constant (but temporary and thus perhaps meaningless) death from inexplicably placed spikes, giant springs, and pitfalls, with giant floating golden rings representing the abstraction of wealth that can somehow buy happiness if enough of them are attained, and with all other living beings on the island encapsulated by robots designed to mimic the appearance of those living things while simultaneously entrapping them and forcing their minds to commit evil deeds as mindless drones for a distant and aloof lone overlord, you would probably think it was an ironic commentary on animal rights and the nature of selfhood and self-determination in a transhuman future world as written by a creative writing major who enjoys hallucinogens on a regular basis.

What happens with these genres is that they evolved over time from something simpler, gradually becoming worlds unto themselves with their own tropes, in-jokes, and semantic structures.  For people who follow along its evolution or are surrounded by the end products from an early age, it doesn't seem strange at all.  It's happend with rap, Noh Theater, hentai porn, action movies, and lolcats, among other things.  However, it seems that this development is especially intense in certain video games.  I think it takes someone translating the genre to a different medium (eg Scott Pilgrim vs The World) to show how strange it's become.  
mattbell: (Default)
It's interesting cognitive science, and it's written up in a humor magazine, Cracked:

Yup, I read Playboy Cracked for the articles.


Nov. 8th, 2009 09:40 pm
mattbell: (Default)
While doing some web searching I ran across a fascinating little company called EmSense that creates a headset that tracks eye gaze and brain activity.  They're marketing it to product marketers, web designers, and video game designers as a way to track what attentional and emotional responses they have as they experience the product/website/game.

This technology could be used to tune these various experiences to be as mentally engaging as possible.  However, the device is made to be used by a small number of product testers instead of end users, so it can't capture the full range of responses that different types of people will have.

And end-user version would be interesting.  If used with a video game, it could monitor your level of excitement and focus as you play in order to make the game as engaging and fun as possible. 

mattbell: (Default)
It's an "artgame" with deliberately crappy graphics and sound.  The gameplay is awkward, very simple, and frustrating, but it's really well done, with subtle touches like the nonlinear distance metric.  Play the full 5 minutes.  (note that you can move up and down as well as left and right)

mattbell: (Default)
I just beat Portal.  It's a computer game where your only weapon is a device that lets you create a portal between two different locations. 
It's clever, funny, and well put together, although the first part was really a bit too easy. 

I definitely recommend checking it out.


The original concept came from a student project.  Portal was essentially the "big studio remake" of a small independent hit. 

Also, unlike other games which can take a good work week or so to beat, Portal is beatable in just a few hours. 
It's funny how entertainment comes segmented into different bite sizes.  To some degree, these sizes are arbitrary.

Let's map it:

Storyline sizes:

 A few minutesClose to an hourA few hoursDozens of hours 
TextNewspaper articleFeature story in a magazineShort bookLong book or series 
Moving picturesYoutubeTV showMovieSeason of a TV serial 
Live showStreet performer.  Vaudeville. (dead)Relatively rare.  (eg boxing)Concerts, plays, sports gamesRare. 
Interactive gameOnline Flash minigame.  Arcade game.  Racing and 2-player fighting games.Relatively rare.
Relatively rare (eg Portal)Most computer & console games 

The gaps in live shows make sense.  People don't want to go to the trouble of attending a live show if it's only going to last an hour... and a live show longer than a few hours is difficult in terms of the human labor required to put on the show and in terms of requiring a large audience to synchronize their breaks.  The gaps in interactive games don't make as much sense.  There's no reason that the game companies couldn't make games with 1-3 hour storylines.  They could be sold for $5-$15. 

I haven't been paying that much attention to the games industry lately.  Perhaps that gap has been filled.
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I took a while to do it, but here are the pictures from Matt's 28th, Julie's 27th birthday / housecooling / giant settlers of catan party.

I actually managed to clean all the playa dust off the game in only half a day.  Since everyone at the party wanted to play, people formed teams and made collective decisions.  The teams were just like real governments... slow and full of internal dissension.  However, unlike real governments, large amounts of alcohol were supplied during the legislative process.

(insert funny caption here)

See more in flickrland...
mattbell: (Default)
We finally finished the giant Settlers of Catan game, a few hours before we were supposed to depart for Burning Man.  The wet spray paint on the houses wasn't even fully dry when we packed it all away at 5am.

We were worried that our efforts to do Settlers as a burning man project were in vain.  Relatively few people have even heard of the game, and most people at burning man can barely rub two neurons together and run around with the attention span of a gnat.

However, we were proven wrong. 

There were people coming by to play Monday morning, even before we had the damn thing set up.

mattbell: (Default)
I lasercut 28 houses and all the signs over the last 2 days.  This represents about 9 hours of lasercutting.  We now have 24 hours to paint everything, package it, and get it out to burningman.

All spread out on my floor:

A finished house:

mattbell: (Default)
We finally finished the hexes for the giant Settlers of Catan boardgame.

Here's a quick assembly of the land hexes.  (The whole setup, with the water hexes, just barely fits in my backyard)

Now we have 5 days to do the resources, markers, dev cards, houses, cities, roads, and  bins for players to use.  No time like the present!

[profile] frogpyjamas and I have been working our asses off to make this happen.  Steve and [profile] zingkotori have come by and helped as well.

I have giant floodlights in my backyard at 1am.  My neighbors must be curious.  I hear them moving around and opening their window shades.


Aug. 16th, 2007 11:56 pm
mattbell: (Default)

The sheep for the giant Settlers of Catan game arrived today.  (Instead of resource cards, we have actual resources.  :-)  My coworkers are always marveling at all the strange stuff I get in the mail.

So I got 24 sheep for only $30.

This is why China will thoroughly kick our ass in the next half-century.  Can Americans produce sheep for $1.20 a pop? I didn't think so.

I wonder what the poor Chinese laborers think of all the weird superfluous stuff they make for us.
mattbell: (Default)
We spent a day working on [profile] frogpyjamas's burningman project idea, the giant sized Settlers of Catan board game.

We rocked and made a ton of progress.

See more progress photos at:


mattbell: (Default)

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