Tag Archives: gaming

Nerd Alert! Community Goes “Ready Player One”

18 May

To inherit the estate of a dead business tycoon, an underdog and his eccentric group of friends must work together to beat a fiendishly difficult video game rife with 80s pop culture references and all the while try to keep a step ahead of an evil corporate cheater.

SF fans might recognize this as the plot of Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One.  But substitute “80s pop culture references” with “the racist stereotypes of a moist towelette magnate” and “evil corporate cheater” with “evil corporate Gus from Breaking Bad” and you’ve got the plot of “Digital Estate Planning,” the third-to-last episode of our favorite, increasingly-nerdy comedy Community in this, its third and darkest season.

Carlos Esposito channeling the Sixers in his OASIS haptic rig–I mean, at Hawthorne Wipes.

I love Community.  I wrote a lukewarm review of its second-ever episode years ago for another blog, which I heartily repent.  Not that I was wrong about Britta being self-righteous and super annoying in the first season, because I totally wasn’t wrong.  Now that Annie seems to be established as the new female lead (as Jeff says to Britta in Course Listing Unavailable, “You seemed smarter to me when I met you”), I have no complaints.

How could I, when Dan Harmon and Co. delight in proving their nerd credentials every Thursdays?  Like the red and blue universes at Annie’s Model UN UN-off (Fringe), or the evil Glee club Christmas episode (I completely believe that Will Schuester could secretly be a serial killer.  Sweater vests really are weird).

NBC seems to have a thing for pop culture cross-pollination.  And I don’t just mean Abed talking about tv shows, because that’s just what he does.  (As an aside–I think I remember criticizing Community for being too “postmodern” with the whole Abed-being-constantly-self-referential thing, but maybe postmodern grows on you.)  Anyone else notice that, on 30 Rock last night, the POW Avery communicating on camera through finger-twitching code sub-plot was pulled straight out of Homeland?

Anyway, “Digital Estate Planning” continues that tradition by taking a page (literally) out of Ernest Cline’s book Ready Player One, which itself still strikes me as a gamer’s version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Of course, even for those of you who haven’t read Cline’s debut novel, released last summer to great fanfare from nerds everywhere, Community ep 3.20 is still as entertaining as ever, along with the two others that followed it last night.  Just thought someone should point this out, in the interest of introducing Cline’s fans to Community’s fans, and vice versa (though I imagine the respective fandoms have quite a bit of overlap).

Not much else to say, except, as always:

#sixseasonsandamovie!

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What is John Locke doing in Fallout: New Vegas?

31 Jan

Disclaimer: I don’t know anything much about gaming.  The University of Alabama had this thing called PixelCon last weekend that involved LARPing and Mario-inspired artwork and Wii, and I was so confused I was afraid to walk down that side of the street.  But Kate the Lostie began playing Minecraft this Christmas, and I ended up watching the Yogscast on youtube (“The Shadow of Israphel” series, by the way, is my new LOST).

And that’s an interesting parenthetical comment because while watching Simon, Lewis, and Hannah’s play-through of Fallout: New Vegas, I spotted this NPC:

I can only surmise that this is an alternate universe in which Flocke did get off the Island and bring about the apocalypse.  For real, just compare–

Please Internet, don’t fail me now.  Can anyone tell me whether I’m crazy, or is this some sort of mysterious Lostie easter egg?

This Is Not a Book Review

10 May

(It’s a flat-out endorsement.)

After a brief interlude of historical fiction and some steampunk sf, I’m back to hard science fiction with Walter Jon Williams’s fantastic This Is Not a Game. For plot summary, a blurb from Publisher’s Weekly:

Williams weaves intriguing questions about games, gamers and their relationships with real life into this well-paced near-future thriller. Game designer Dagmar specializes in creating alternate reality games that muddle the line between fantasy and reality.

Trapped in riot-torn Jakarta, she reaches out to the gamer community for help. Once back in Los Angeles, Dagmar is caught up in a web of murders and financial manipulation that she begins to blend into her latest game, using the community of players to solve clues and sift through large amounts of data. The line between real life and the game blurs as the action builds to a satisfying and thoughtful conclusion. Though the technology talk occasionally becomes intrusive, it’s convincingly written; the characters are realistic and absorbing, and the story deeply compelling.

I actually don’t believe that the “technology talk” is intrusive– I’m don’t know terribly much about coding or ARGs (although, I did get involved in one quite accidentally last fall at UA–how impressive is it that University Libraries has a gaming department?), but the insider’s look was both interesting and pretty integral to the plot.

Overall (and as I reviewed on Facebook): Really impressive, 4.5 stars

I felt like I was reading a cross between David Louis Edelman and Cory Doctorow (scheming Natch-like tech tycoons and a much more self assured Jara, in a Makers-like world of failing economies and clever hackers), which can only be good. But the book is absolutely original, and the prose so clever it had me laughing out loud a couple times. Characterization was great, and as for the plot, it was simply… devious.

Conquering time and space with a Facebook app

28 Dec

This might surprise some people, but Farmville and Mafia Wars aren’t the only games on Facebook these days.

This winter break, I had the good fortune to visit with John Bergmans, a long-time friend of my aunt and uncle (Dr. John Bossard of Plasma Wind, by the way–see sidebar).  Along with being an engineer and entrepreneur, owner of Bergmans Mechatronics LLC, John Bergmans is also of late a Facebook app designer, the creator of the game EarthControl. According to the Facebook fan page:

EarthControl is a real-time, multi-player Facebook game in which players fly ships into space to pick up oil and bring it back to earth. Now includes sound effects and music, keyboard control, in-game chat support for Internet Explorer 7!

Here’s a short demo:

Bergmans describes the premise as a “cynical commentary” on our seemingly never-ending dependence on oil for energy; in his animated universe, oil barrels float around outside orbit and rival factions or space pirates can shoot your ship down with “plasma balls” to steal that precious black gold payload.

It’s surprisingly addictive—after a couple hours playing against some family members in a very intense competition filled with black looks shot across the room as we sat at our own laptops and opened fire on each other online, I was ranked 9th top player overall.  I do not intend to give up that position.  Ever.

Bergmans commented that working on the game put him in his own little world, and was pretty enjoyable.  But he seemed at no time more animated (pardon the pun) than when discussing the Kaazing Communications Gateway’s WebSockets, the web communication system that allows for real-time updates to the game.

WebSockets allows the game to “push data,” update the content without constantly pinging a server to resend data (in other words, no hitting the refresh button).  Earlier this month, EarthControl even hosted a transatlantic tournament, simultaneous with Peter Lubbers’s (of Kaazing Corp.) HTML5 Communication Systems seminar all the way across the pond, in London.

This is all the more impressive considering that every command sent to the game—shooting a plasma ball at my uncle’s ship to steal his payload, for example—gets routed through Bergman’s server in San Jose (that’s a pretty long way from England).  Even two months before the tournament, the technology was performing flawlessly at long distances.  Bergmans posted this on Facebook in early October:

I played the first-ever trans-Atlantic EarthControl game today with Peter Lubbers of Kaazing Corp. (Kaazing is the company which makes the WebSockets technology that enables web browsers to maintain continuous, real-time communications with servers.)

For this event, Peter was in Amsterdam, as part of a trip to Europe, while I was in Newport Beach, CA. Of particular significance is that, although the distance between Peter and the EarthControl server in San Jose, CA is about 5500 miles, Peter reported no apparent change in his ability to control his ship in real-time within the game. I noticed no difference either in my interactions with Peter from my location 340 miles south of San Jose. We were also able to easily carry on a conversation using the new in-game chat function of EarthControl.

This real-time, multi-player aspect is what makes EarthControl most fun—particular since the game has a Twitter account that tweets whenever a new player logs on (you’ll never have to play alone, and hey, that competitor could be halfway across the world).  Let the grudge matches begin.

So if you’re on Facebook and killing time (and let’s admit, that’s what Facebook’s all about), check out EarthControl: it’s a lot better than chasing lost cows.