by Procedural Arts (PC, 2006) spoilers


Façade is an art and research project which aims to extend the remit of gaming, making a bold raid deep into rarely-explored territory. It opens with a voicemail, inviting you to visit old friends, and then presents the player with a first-person view from outside your caller's apartment door. Stepping up briskly, I was just getting to grips with the mouse cursor's context-sensitive prompt to knock on the door, when I began to discern the muffled but unmistakable sounds of an argument going on inside. The familiar sinking feeling invoked as you screw up your courage, overcome your hesitation, and knock regardless, is possibly a gaming first.

Awkward social situations are nothing new in other media, but the complicity engendered by interactivity and first-person immersion enhances the effect. It's a rich vein, and the ensuing interactive drama mines it deeply - starting with the knock, upon which a voice fiercely whispers "He's here already? I thought you said 8 o'clock?"

Your hosts Trip and Grace do their best to welcome you gracefully, but there's clearly tension in the air. You can speak to them at any point just by typing on the keyboard, and navigate the apartment, or mess with its fixtures, using the mouse. The story that unfolds is highly dependant on your behaviour, as Trip and Grace respond to you and to each other, using a social AI system developed specifically for this project. Consequentially, the storyline and its outcome varies massively from one replay to the next - although similar themes are often brought out somewhere along the way: the Italian holiday that no-one wants to talk about; the 'experimental' decor - a symptom of Grace's frustration with her uncreative graphic design job.

There are no goals, no score. No explicit measures of success. Judging by my few replays, the evening can end in one of a small number of ways, some of them are sad or embarrassing, others, perhaps the more elusive ones, are happy or hopeful. If the player chooses to adopt the attainment of a particular story-ending as a self-assigned goal, then that's up to them - and surely that's the very essence of what interactivity is all about.

Façade isn't without its flaws. The graphics are perfunctory - which is arguably a positive, since it's Southpark visual style steers well clear of the Valley, but will doubtless repel the superficiality of the mainstream. Similarly, the AI has a limited repertoire - it only knows how to converse around particular topics, using the words and phrases that have been recorded by voice actors. Again though, this has an upside, as the confines of the two-room apartment, its three occupants, and the prominence of their relationship problems all serve to reinforce the intensity of the situation. More pertinently though, even within these constraints the AI isn't perfect - this is a research project after all. The inevitable failure to recognise your typed input is often handled relatively gracefully, by a confused look from Trip or Grace, or an abrupt subject change, passed off as a deliberate avoidance of the topic you were broaching - a tactic that sometimes actually becomes more effective and engaging the more insistent your attempts become.

It's often-cited in the game development world that the industry is still not mature enough to know how to write a game that can make the player cry. The current state-of-the art is comparable to the crude motion-pictures of the late 19th century. Who would have believed, watching the grainy, silent flickering of Fred Ott's Sneeze, the narrative and emotional finesse to which that medium would one day soar? For all its faults, it's in increments such as Façade that gaming moves in the same direction.

Rating: 9/10. Lets. Push. Things. Forward.

Webfaction hosting

WebFaction - hosting for an agile web.

If you can see this post, then tartley.com successfully switched to WebFaction for our hosting, thanks to the resounding recommendations of Michael, and the genial-but-highly-competent aura emanating from the big cheese, Remi Delon. Shell access, Linux environment, open-source friendly, Wordpress directly catered for. I'm a happy bunny. Thanks all round. Maybe now I can finally get around to putting that photo gallery up?

Music 101¾

Writing music out by hand is incredibly laborious. Or at least, it is for me. This is my first attempt to pen some notes by plonking around on the keyboard until it sounds right. Doubtless errors of all kinds abound, which I'd be much obliged if anyone pointed out to me, tar very much.

Spiderman 3

spiderman3.jpg: Power corrupts

| The battle within. | Director: Sam Raimi | Writers: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi | Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst.

That review again in full: Pants.

Rating: 3/10 for the special effects. I want my 2 hours back.

DirectX in IronPython


I've always preferred the open standards and cross-platform philosophy of OpenGL over DirectX. In recent years though, development of OpenGL has seemed to stall somewhat, while DirectX has continually put out new iterations that seem to significantly enhance functionality while improving useability. We use a lot of IronPython at Resolver, the dotNET dialect of Python, so the last couple of nights I thought I'd throw my principles and good taste to the wind, and work through the IronPython samples to see how well it works with the .Net interface of DirectX. The verdict: It works just fine. Albeit with colossal dependancies, for something that simply thows a dozen vertices around the screen. And only on one operating system. Gah.

12 Books That Changed The World

12 Books That Changed The World

by Melvyn Bragg (2006)

A brilliant assembly of potted snippets of history, ideal for someone like myself with scarcely a glimmer of an education. By cunning omission of the definite article, Bragg gets to talk not just about 12 important books, but is able to manipulate the list such that it is all about 12 British books, a move I heartily approve of. Apparently written to accompany some television series, I neither knew nor cared. For the record, his selection is below:

  • Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton, 1687. "Will always have a pre-eminance above all the other works of human genius."
  • Married Love by Marie Stopes, 1918. Transformed the married lives of a whole generation, furthering the rights of women, and making it possible to broach subjects that had been entirely taboo.
  • Magna Carta by Members of the English ruling classes, 1215. The fundamental origins of the English constitution, setting up a balance of powers which forms the basis and language for many others since, including America and India.
  • The Rule Book of Association Football by a group of former English public school men. Codifying the most popular game on the planet.
  • On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, 1859. The greatest and most far-reaching scientific theory yet produced.
  • On the Abolition of the Slave Trade an oration by William Wilberforce in Parliament, 1789. This was published immediately after his oration in parliament, forming a cornerstone of the anti-slave trade movement, and eventually leading to the abolition of the slave trade just days before Wilberforce's death, a move that, in subsequent decades, was emulated by nations all over the world.
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollsenstonecraft, 1792. The first great feminine thesis, coming at a time when the world sorely needed it.
  • Experimental Researches in Electricity by Michael Faraday, 1839-55. A study in dedication and impartial perseverance, resulting in an astonishing number of discoveries which now affect the everyday lives of billions.
  • Patent Specification for Arkwright's Spinning Machine by Richard Arkwright, 1769. Trailblazer for a commerce-fuelled industrial revolution that shows no signs of slowing down in its transformation of the world.
  • The King James Bible by fifty-four scholars appointed by the King, 1611. A beautiful construction that has contributed more phrases and expressions to the English language than any other source.
  • An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, 1776. Transformed views of how wealth was to be measured and generated, practically inventing capitalism along the way.
  • The First Folio by William Shakespeare, 1623. No other work of fiction, religious texts aside, can match the cultural influence and endearing effect on our language that this body of work has had.


9/10 if you know nothing, like what I do.

5/10 if you've already read all the entries in his list, like I haven't.

Daniel Kitson


Daniel's usual brand of heartfelt, bittersweet, dorky, whimsically playful stand-up, in the delightful environs of Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, with the Junior Penns & co, and Hallie visiting from Minnesota. More cynical souls were untouched, but Hallie and I loved it.

Music 101½

It's been said before by others, but I hadn't realised how insidious it is: When musicians talk about 'theory', they actually mean 'notation'. With reference to my previous whinging about music notation, I notice that the Music Notation Modernization Association are suggesting a number of revisions to make notation more useful and consistent. One of the more prominent suggestions is a change to the use of staves to make them compatible with the octave-offset principle I mentioned earlier, thus making the appearance of notes consistent across all staves, and making the use of clefs of any kind redundant.

The above idea especially comes into its own when combined with their other proposals:

Chromatic staves to indicate intervals in a proportional manner (rather than the current bonkers '♯' and '♭' notation)


Twinline staves, which only require two horizontal lines, rather than the conventional five, provides a significant increase in readability, in keeping with Tufte's principle of maximising data-ink ratio.


Note color or shape used to discriminate pitch, rather than the current quirky use of partially indicating note length. This is perhaps my favourite, as it massively increases the ease of rapidly identifying notes on sight. Since note colour is currently used to distinguish between a minim and a crotchet, then some other way of making them distinct would have to be found. A unique flag on the note stem would seem to suffice, and would be more in keeping with the other note duration symbology.


After what looks like years of painstaking brainstorming, research, focus testing and refinement, the only thing left for the MNMA to do is to decide on one single notation that unambiguously combines all the above ideas, and promote its use with the aim of gradually supplanting conventional notation. Unfortunately, this seems to be something they have singularly failed to do. By failing to adopt and recommend a single notation, they seem to be ensuring that none of their ideas will ever gain any traction.


Flag of Denmark

Spent last weekend in lovely Copenhagen, courtesy of our native guide, Susan's friend Rasmus. The ever genial Witt Mathot, and his sidekick Mike, were also in town giving some GIS Server training course. Consequently I spent Monday sickasadog. Quite possibly I will never be the same again. Regardless, the city was terrific and its inhabitants warm, genuine and kind, even after an outrageous travesty inflicted by Sweden on the football pitch. Hurrah for bastions of civilisation, even though their politicians are, by all accounts, going down the pan just as fast as ours are. Through the whole weekend, I only said 'Dutch' when I meant 'Danish' once, which by my standards makes me a beacon of informed, considerate enlightenment. Defining memory: Pleasant post-party walks home through the city in the dawn sunlight, amongst streams of happy, chatting, cycling people all doing the same.

Game On: Origins

The lovely Susan and I managed to nip into the Game On exhibit at the Science Museum, back in February, just before it ended. I was so glad that we did - what a delight it was! I couldn't believe the assemblage of classic hardware they had packed into those rooms, all working and playable.

I wanted to write a lovingly detailed description of all the games we found therein, wallowing in nostalgia and techno-fetishism. But in the 3 months since I first wrote the above paragraph, I've never got around to completing it, so the following annotated list of my personal highlights from the first section will have to suffice for the moment, though it is naught but a gnarled stub of the monument I had envisaged.

Spacewar! (MIT, 1962)

Spacewar! on the PDP-1's oscilloscope-like display.Spacewar! on the PDP-1's oscilloscope-like display.

Not just the strongest entry for the hotly-contested title of 'first ever computer game', but actually by far and away the most fun of any of the contenders, featuring a depth of gameplay that wouldn't be matched until Defender, nearly 20 years later. A two player deep-space duel with Newtonian physics, which remains surprisingly playable even today. About 200 hours of work went into writing the initial version, which was then refined with touches such as a background starfield which maps every star from the real night sky of fifth magnitude or brighter, precessing slowly to display all the well-known constellations as the game progresses. The Game-On exhibit had the original hardware on show, a defunct PDP-1 the size of a Hummer, which ran at 0.2MHz. In an inadvertent demonstration of Moore's Law, a playable simulacrum of the game itself was provided on a six-inch Vectrex from the '80s.

Pong (Atari, 1972)

Pong (1972)

Nolan Bushnell founds Atari, and when the local bar reports his first machine to be 'broken', it turns out to be due to its innards overflowing with quarters. Before my time, this one, but a clear indicator of things to come. Interestingly, many of the subsequent incarnations of Pong, for home consoles and the like, didn't play as well as this original model, since it was constructed using dedicated analog electronics, which enabled a rapid framerate, and commensurate fluidity of gameplay, which could not be matched by software implementations for years to come.

Space Invaders (Taito, 1978)

Space Invaders

Triggered coin shortages in Japan, prompting the government to quadruple the supply of 1 Yen coins. To this day the cultural resonance lives on, as the French urban street artist 'Invader' is still placing his discreet mosaics in public places around the world, returning only when local authorities scrape them off, to put a small white number where the invader used to be. I was never quite as massively captivated by it as by other games, although no doubt my parents would protest that was only because 10p coins were in such short supply for my seven-year old self. I however, shall stick to my story, that perhaps the blatantly predictable gameplay proved fractionally less of a lure than other, subsequent titles that left a little more to the imagination.

Asteroids (Atari, 1979)


A clear descendant of the original Spacewar, featuring deep-space based Newtonian combat rendered with rotational vector graphics which afford an austere Kubrickian elegance to the presentation. In common with many games of this vintage, the terrific bass thumps and distinctive chirps and warbles of the sound effects were produced using custom analog electronics, specifically designed for the game. The combination is dynamite, and Asteroids went on to become Atari's greatest selling game of all time, tempting ten year olds such as myself into countless hours spent lurking around the screen edges, dreaming of a high-stakes lifestyle out beyond the Kuiper belt in a singleship, hunting down those high-scoring UFOs.

Pac Man (Namco, 1979)


"If computer games affected our behaviour, then by now there'd be a generation that had grown up running around in darkened rooms, munching magic pills and listening to repetitive electronic music - oh, hang on."

Missile Command (Atari, 1980)

Missile Command

The game's original design tasked the player with the defence of American west coast cities, from San Diego to San Francisco, while unending waves of nukes rained down like fireflies. Cold war tensions made that scenario a little too chilling for comfort, so the game was re-cast with a science-fiction setting. The result, with immaculate use of a then-novel trackball controller, and seismic sound effects, constituted a classic that remained a prominent and profitable entry in arcades for fifteen years after its release, and remains an inspiration for modern games such as Defcon (PC, 2006).

Battlezone (Atari, 1980)


A trailblazing first-person perspective 3D virtual reality, and famously adapted by the US Army to train gunnery crews of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Myths surrounding the game abounded, of increasingly esoteric enemies that could be encountered with prolonged play, of continued progress towards the distant mountains leading to the exploration of exotic terrain, and the discovery of factories which were producing the endless supply of enemy tanks rolling your way. In reality, the hardware was hard-pressed to perform the required 3D calculations for even the simple surroundings presented at the start of the game, and there was no more content than could be seen within five minutes of that. And yet, the stark scenarios it presented blossomed within the imagination of my young self, offering possibilities for the presentation of limitless worlds, to anyone who could bring with them but a modicum of willing-suspension.

Defender (Williams, 1980)

Get away from me!

While its contemporaries could often be mastered by careful, methodical play, memorising patterns, and the occasional bout of dexterity, Defender proved to be the ultimate test of reactions, spatial awareness and hand-eye skill. Once underway, the game becomes a non-stop roller-coaster of pant-wettingly tense action, as your gymnastically maneuverable craft, spitting pyrotechnic plutonium death, carefully rescues fragile humanoids from a sky full of of the most fiendish, purposeful, body-snatching, god-damned alien sons-of-bitches to ever be rendered in pixel. Clearly the hatred in me lives on.

End of the Early Arcade Scene

For me, Defender marks a watershed in the industry, prior to which games developers had to go through extraordinary contortions in order to coax the primitive hardware of the times into producing anything coherent on the screen at all. As a result, the games of the era were forced to model simple worlds, depicted using visuals that were highly stylised, to say the least. To this day I find a kind of beauty in the abstract minimalism that this required, a kind that, with occasional exceptions, is missing from games of later generations.

The game developers of the day were more inventors than engineers or authors. Their creativity was necessarily of a predominantly left-brained kind, but as is so often the case, in being channeled by the technical restrictions they faced, that creativity responded by seeking out nooks and crannies in which to flourish, and then leaping forth, blossoming in unexpected directions, producing games with rude, brash exteriors, but nonetheless exuding a rugged and determined charm, lurching with barely contained excitement from one harebrained idea to the next.

Defender in many ways marks the culmination of this era. Primary author Eugene Jarvis' legendary programming efforts wrung incredible results from the paltry hardware resources at his disposal, while introducing concepts such as the horizontally-scrolling wraparound landscape, the tactical awareness granted by the radar, the smart bomb - which perfectly offset the otherwise ruthlessly difficult play. All of these would remain staples in the industry for decades to come. Each one, arguably, an inevitable invention, an idea who's time had come, an mere incremental development of the exploration of virtual space that nascent gaming represented. But nonetheless, each one, inarguably, had never been done before. To bring them all together in a single sustained creative outburst represented a peak, a marriage of engineering, art, business and frivolity that had never previously been attempted.

By 1981, just one year after the release of Defender, the hardware quickly standardised and evolved such that it no longer created such intrusive restrictions on creativity. The business model had been well established, the market assuredly huge and growing every year. The risks and the difficulties overcome, a mass of new game companies moved in, flooding the market with uninspired, profit-driven efforts and mediocre imitations. Programmers were relegated to programming, artists and modellers took over the visuals, and what should have been the central role, that of game design, fell in the cracks, while the other former partner in the creative enterprise, the players who had previously supplied the imagination, were made redundant.

It wasn't all doom and gloom, however (no pun intended.) In the midst of the impending '80s game boom, there were plenty of gems, once one filtered through all the dross. I've found this write-up most enjoyable, so maybe I'll write some more about that next week...