Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Ipswich Regent: Suffolk'n Ripoff!

Splendid as it may be that The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain will be playing at that most august of venues in the county town of Ipswich, namely The Regent, it's more than a little flabbergasting to discover that the price of each ticket is inflated by an extortionate £2.00 if they are purchased with a credit card, debit card or a cheque.

Four £23 tickets in the stalls should cost £92 (not cheap by any means, but positively inflated when one considers the downbeat ambience of this parochial venue) but it seems nothing short of daylight robbery when the venue bumps up the total to £100.

Just to set this ticket price scam in context, The Barbican (which is neither downbeat nor--except for those living on the Barbican estate--parochial) charges a booking fee of £2.50 per telephone transaction, and that includes first class postage if there's time! (if not, the tickets are held at the box office). There's a charge of £1.50 for online bookings and again, tickets are sent via first class post (in lovely little orange envelopes).

The Southbank Centre doesn't stiff concert-goers either: there's a £2.50 fee per telephone booking or £1.45 for online booking. As with the Barbican, the fee is applied to each transaction, not each ticket.

I think that in order to register my displeasure at the contempt Ipswich Borough Council/The Regent clearly displays toward the mugs who pay their wages ticket-buying public, it would be fitting to buy tickets in person at the box office and offer payment in pennies. Unfortunately, however, as the Royal Mint points out that 1p and 2p coins are legal tender up to 20p, I might have to be a bit more creative. The 5p coin is legal tender up to £5, as is the 10p. The 20p is legal tender up to £10, and so it the 50p. The £1 is legal tender in any amount. It looks like it could be £30 in silver and sixty-two pound coins. Unless I go with my chums and we buy one ticket each, maxing out the disconvenience of paying with 5p, 10, 20p and 50p coins. On the other hand, I could save myself the hassle of getting lots of coins out of the bank and let the poxy Regent stick its tickets where the sun don't shine.

Replay: A History of Video Games

Cover image: Replay: The History of Video GamesThere's a review in today's paper of a new book purporting to tell "the" history of video games (I always think "a history" is preferable: the definitive ambition of "the history" may be a little hubristic).

Fatal flaw of the title aside, it looks quite interesting. According to Keith Stuart's review,

Replay: The History of Video Games by games journalist Tristan Donovan is a[n ... ] up-to-date and thoughtfully written opus. Beginning with the switching on of the first programmable computer in 1946 and closing with the rise of downloadable indie games, this engrossing work manages to touch on every vital facet of the industry, from the formative battles between Atari and Mattel, through the rise of the home computer to the emergence of the Japanese home console empire.

Apparently Donovan includes a consideration of MUDs, which are often overlooked in such works (I know that when I talk about MUDs to students, it's usually the first time most of them have heard of such things). Clive "C5" Sinclair gets some coverage for his pioneering work in developing computing in the UK.

It's £12.99 in the shops and surprisingly expensive at £12.34 on Amazon. If it was more heavily discounted (under a tenner) I'd snap up a copy without thinking twice (Amazon must love me) but Amazon's piddlingly small "discount" is a psychological block that's cost them a sale. Instead of copping myself a copy, I'll ask the library to add one to stock.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Social Network: Free Soundtrack

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have scored David Fincher's new film "The Social Network". You can score a free five-track EP of music from the film at

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Free Audio Books

The Guardian is running a promotion this week, whereby readers can download free audiobooks from A different title is made available each day.

Saturday: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson [Audible link]
Sunday: Armando Iannucci's Charm Offensive [Audible link]
Monday: Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Really Big Adventure by Kristina Stephenson [Audible link]
Tuesday: Matter by Iain M. Banks [Audible link]
Wednesday: Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell [Audible link]
Thursday: Rapid French: Volume 1 by Earworms Learning [Audible link]
Friday: Yes Man by Danny Wallace [Audible link]

Each free download is only available for a week, so don't hang about.

The way it works is users have to create an account with audible, and each of the free audiobooks is added to a virtual shopping basket and purchased for a cost of £0.00. Each audiobook is then downloaded using the audible download manager. No purchase is necessary, and no credit card details are required to set up the account.

One problem with this is that Audible uses a proprietary format for the files: they aren't .mp3 or .ogg, but a peculiar .aa format (shame on you, Guardian, BTW, for going along with this .aa malarkey). Another problem is that the files appear to be very heavily compressed. However, the ingenuity of the internets can help those who don't want to be hampered by a proprietary format. The audible account is flexible enough to require users to specify how--ie on what platform--they want to listen to the files. Available options are "iPod", "MP3 & GPS", "Mobiles & PDAs" and "Computer and CD Burning". Select "Computer and CD Burning".

The third problem is that the only way to get the files is to use the audible downloader, so you'll just have to install that and dump it later. So complete the sign-up process, and figure out how to download the .aa file via the downloader.

The next thing to do is to use the google to find, download and install a file called audibleMediaPlayerFilter.exe This is an old application, no longer used by Audible, but installing it will also install an aa-compatible codec, which is needed to open these files before converting them.

You'll also need LAME (Lame Ain't an Mp3 Encoder) so if you don't already have it, go back to the google and find and download LAME. However you get LAME, you'll need to drop a copy of lame_enc.dll into the C:/Windows/System directory. This is needed to convert those pesky .aa files to MP3 format using an application called Goldwave. Note that Goldwave needs to have the lame dll in the C:/Windows/System directory in order to be able to export to MP3, so if you've already got LAME installed, just drag another copy of the dll here.

Go back to the google to find, download and install Goldwave 5.06 Note that later versions of Goldwave will expire, so make sure to get 5.06.

Finally, just open the downloaded .aa file with Goldwave and save it as an MP3.
(This method doesn't work with .aax files, Audible's so-called "enhanced" format. In this set of free downloads, only the Rapid French title uses the aax format.)

As an alternative to exporting as an MP3, export the file from Goldwave as a wav file, then open the wav in CDWave (a shareware app used by audiophiles) which is nicer than Goldwave for tracking, and add track divisions or chapter points.

Goldwave can also be used for tracking, using what it calls "cue points", but it involves quite a bit of scrolling and zooming in Goldwave to place the cue points, while the process is more straightforward in CD Wave (CD Wave only reads lossless WAV or FLAC files).

Last time The Guardian got together with to give away a free audioboook, there was an embedded player on the page with the option of streaming the file, downloading it as an MP3 or using some subscription service thing called iTunes. While the streaming/downloading options were better than the current offering, the book was Wolf Brother, a fantasy tale aimed at younger readers/listeners, by Michelle Paver. However, it didn't expire after a week and, three years later, it's still available here:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

From Gameboy to Armageddon

accompanying pictureThis fascinating programme on BBC Radio 3 is a repeat of an earlier broadcast in February 2010.

The programme discusses the use of gaming technology in warfare, combat training, and even recovery and recuperation. The phrase "military entertainment complex" nicely captures the scope of the programme. (According to Tim Lenoir, All But War is Simulation [see footnote #4 on page 292], the phrase (which is a re-working of "military-industrial complex" which refers, literally, to the business of killing people) was, apparently, first used by Bruce Sterling in "War is Virtual Hell" in the first issue of Wired magazine (March/April 1993). While Sterling certainly discusses the developing synergy between the military and gaming technology, he doesn't quite coin that wonderful phrase.)

There is some discussion of the morality of gameplay--for example, having to kill "wounded" opponents or bots to win Full Spectrum Warrior--but interestingly, while the media often raises questions about the morality of videogames, the question of the morality of warfare per se doesn't even appear as a blip on the programme's radar screen.

It hasn't yet hit the BBC iPlayer, but will appear shortly: Alternatively, the marvellous RadioDownloader offers a convenient way of grabbing radio programmes that might otherwise be missed.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dead Good Name for a Cafe

If you were going to open a cafe, you'd probably want to give it a name. Preferably something meaningful and memorable. Directly meaningful names like "The Cafe", "The Coffee Bar" or "The Snack Bar" are non-starters in a town that sets up a new sixth form college and doesn't call it "[Town name] Sixth Form Centre" or "[Well known historical figure with an association with the town] College" but something entirely random (One, brainchild of Suffolk County Council, I'm referring to you).

Anyway, a cafe in a building that trades in education probably ought to have a name with some sort of "educational association" rather than a bland, straightforward and descriptive name. If it could be a bit ... "exotic" that would be even better. What better then than a foreign word that has some sort of mathematical association? (the institution in question doesn't offer a BSc in Maths, btw, but it should be obvious by now where this is heading).

Here, then, is the name and something approaching a rationale:
UCS Union's new café - Theta - will officially open for business on Thursday 2 September 2010.
Theta shares the space with the new Waterfront Gallery, managed by the School of Arts and Humanities, which will open on Tuesday 7 September.
Theta is the eight [sic] letter of the Greek alphabet and is widely used in the sciences, in particular as a mathematical symbol, making it an appropriate choice for a café in an educational institution.
Oh gosh. That sounds well impressive. It's foreign, it's got something to do with education (albeit not in a discipline one can actually study at the institution) and err ... well that's it. Or rather it is until one digs a little deeper.

This is from the entry for "theta" in the popular online repository of knowledge Wikipedia (doubtlessly pasted-in from somewhere else):
In classical Athens, [theta] was used as an abbreviation for the Greek θάνατος (thanatos, “death”) and as it vaguely resembles a human skull, theta was used as a warning symbol of death, in the same way that skull and crossbones are used in modern times. It survives on potsherds used by Athenians when voting for the death penalty. Petrus de Dacia in a document from 1291 relates the idea that theta was used to brand criminals as empty ciphers, and the branding rod was affixed to the crossbar spanning the circle.
Seems like the naming committee have pulled a killer name out of the hat then. It should pull in the punters in droves ... unlike its clumsily named predecessor, Couture.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Schelling Out

Here's a video recording of Jesse Schell's recent presentation on game development at the DICE 2010 conference. Schell considers the economics of online games [particularly Facebook games, including the ubiquitous Farmville]. Here's some interesting facts:
FV > T

There are more Farmville players than there are Twitter accounts.

Lead generation is greater than direct payments (first they hook you in, then they hit you up).
Facebook is strange

Facebook is strange when compared to retail economics.

Schell links various "unexpected" aspects of recent games development (the success of Facbook games, plastic add-ons/input devices, "achievements", etc, by referring to psychological aspects--he calls them "tricks"--of game design.

When (drawing on Jim Gilmore and Joe Pines's Authenticity: What consumers really want), Schell goes on to talk about how contemporary culture has an aspect of "reality" or "authenticity" that is designed to allow consumers to believe they can get beyond "the bubble of fake bullshit", I think he's referring to what the Frankfurt School might have called "false consciousness".

This is such interesting stuff you'll want to watch it twice.

Games and platforms discussed include Mafia Wars, Farmville, Club Penguin, Wii, Wii Fit, Guitar Hero, Webkinz.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Looking for the Truth

I've been working on a machinima project using Moviestorm 1.2. It's the most ambitious piece of machinima I've made to date, involving voice actors and a proper script. The finished piece has a running time of fourteen minutes. I'll be submitting it as an entry for the 2010 MachinExpo, as well as entering a subtitled version in the Stars and Storm competition on

Here's the teaser text interspersed with some production stills:

Harris wakes up naked, scratched and bruised in an abandoned house.

He tells Bengie, his flatmate, that he can't remember much about the night before.

Meanwhile, Amber's friend Jessica appears to be missing.

Is there a connection?

Bengie and Amber want to know what happened.

They're all looking for the truth ...


The film can be viewed on Vimeo:
Here's a link to the version with subtitles:

It contains nudity and strong language.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Notes from a Small Island

There's an interesting ex-patriate story in a recent edition of The Daily Telegraph about a Scotsman who emigrated to New Zealand and then became a volunteer IT trainer in The Republic of Vanuatu, a group of islands in the South Pacific formerly known as the New Hebrides.

What's particularly interesting is that the ex-pat is using Moviestorm as a machinima platform with the youth group members of an educational theatre group, the Wan Smolbag Theatre, based in Vanuatu's capital, Port Vila.

The Telegraph article is here: Making Movies in Vanuatu.

Some of the youth group's work can be seen here: Moviestorm Animation Club. These young machinimators are modding Moviestorm and using Google Sketchup to create their own props.

Here's the first film they made (it shows the Wan Smolbag Theatre); check out the modding:

Their most recent production is here:

Here's is a link to the Wan Smolbag Theatre group's moviestorm channel: WanSmolbag. The ex-pat in question, btw, is John Herd, better known to those who frequent the Moviestorm forums as Primaveranz.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Keeping it (un) real: Serious Games

Mike Shaugnessy of Washington & Jefferson College, Pennsylvania, is currently guest-blogging on BoingBoing. He recently posted about "Tactical Iraqi", a language and culture simulation/training application, developed at the University of Southern Califormia using Unreal Technology and funded by the US military's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Shaugnessy also notes that the Americans have built facsimile Iraqi villages in the California desert "so soldiers can practice their interactions with [pretend] locals and [cod] insurgents and get the authentic feel for life in Iraq as an occupying force". Similar facsimiles have been created in the UK in a forest in Norfolk and in Somerset, but as of yet there is no film version (Full Battle Rattle is set in an American training facsimile of an Afghan village).

What's interesting is the use of FPS gaming technology to recreate real locations to provide simulation and training that *doesn't* have any shooting in (that's right: the interactions are verbal and gestural and don't include rocket launchers!). "Tactical Iraqi" has been around for a while, as this BBC story shows, and has picked up several awards, including a DARPA award in 2005. It was first built using UT2003. Shaugnessy's BongBoing post refers to the latest release (October 2009), but doesn't note if the developers have updated to a newer Unreal engine. There are now several "Tactical Language" spin-offs, including "Tactical Pashto", "Tactical Dari", "Tactical French" and "Tactical Indonesian". While "Tactical Levantine" seems to have been dropped (see that BBC story) a "Tactical Jive" or "Tactical Urban Street Argot" might be useful for facilitating some local integration.

There is some interesting discussion of the development and play testing here:

Unfortunately, there's no downloadable demo available (athough anyone with access to a .mil email address can download the software for free) but a video and a brochure can be found on the Alelo website.

Other video clips can be found in all the usual places. This one's from DailyMotion:

The American military has a long history of using games technology for training, as this article by Roger Smith Simulation and Gaming 41.1 (February 2010) shows.

Acclaim for the "Tactical Language" simulations is not universal, as shown by this post on Watercooler Games by academic cum games designer Ian Bogost.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Originally uploaded by collegecollage
That telly's actually quite big when you stand close to it

don't watch that ...

Originally uploaded by collegecollage
watch this!

Visitors are mesmerised by machinima madness at the end of year show.

they think it's all over ...

Originally uploaded by collegecollage
it is now! final year computer games design and computer games programming students at the end of year show

computer games design

Originally uploaded by collegecollage
A visitor checks out one of the exhibits

computer games design

Originally uploaded by collegecollage
Visitors check out the Flash games made by some of the L2 students (is that someone looking bored, or just checking out the booze and food table?)

computer games design

Originally uploaded by collegecollage
reverse engineering: Worms ported to a 2D card game by daniel shepherd

computer games design

Originally uploaded by collegecollage
soundscape exhibit by craig fotheringham

Endangered Species: On Thin ice

This is one of several DS games that were created by small groups of final year students on the computer games design and computer games programming courses.

Endangered species was created by Dean Leeks (design); Ryan Avent (art); Roger Creyke (programming) and George Daters (programming).

More info here:

And here:

And on Roger Creyke's website, here:

computer games design

Originally uploaded by collegecollage
Visitors checking out the work on display

caption competition

Originally uploaded by collegecollage
What are these computer games design students saying at the end of year show? Witty replies should be sent on a postacrd (or the back of a sealed envelope containing a bribe) to:
End of Year Show Caption Competition,
c/o Anomalous Materials Laboratory,

One entry per person.
No correspondence will be entered into.
The editor's decision is final.

computer games design

Originally uploaded by collegecollage
Some of the exhibits of final year student work at the end of year show: left: work by Craig Fotheringham (computer games design); centre: work by Kevin Reed (computer games programming).

computer games design

Originally uploaded by collegecollage
Visitor's engage with one of the computer games design exhibits (this one belongs to Dean Leeks)

Mods 'n' Rockers

Originally uploaded by collegecollage
computer games design - modding Visitors get stuck in to some CTF fun playing some of the L2 student's UT2K4 mods

Thursday, June 3, 2010

End of Year Show

The final year undergraduates in the School of Arts and Humanities at UCS got their End of Year Show on last night, and very impressive it was too.

Pictures to follow.

It's a link ... click on it!


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Future Looks Dull

Natalie Alderman, who may be an average social gamer, points out in this post on the Guardian that "dull", "unchallenging", and "not particularly innovative", games are very popular. This, she explains, is because they are played by people who use social networking sites like Facebook.

Alderman goes on to suggest that the ranks of gamers will be swelled by people "who haven't previously thought of themselves as gamers" and, while this growth will result in a more diverse range of people playing games, "more diversity doesn't necessarily mean all the games will be great".

Can't wait!

Friday, April 16, 2010

It's a Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod World

Palle Torsson make mods. Some of his mods are interiors of film sets, such as Psycho, The Shining and Reservoir Dogs, created in Unreal Tournament 2003. An exhibition of sixteen large format images of the interiors were exhibited at the Andréhn-Schiptjenko gallery in Stockholm in 2003, and the work was also shown in the Try Again exhibition in Madrid in 2008.

Here's his Unreal Silence of The Lambs:
palle Torsson, 'Unreal Silence of The Lambs'

More here: Palle Torsson, Evil Interiors

Previously, Torsson created mods in collaboration with Tobias Berstrup, using Duke Nukem and Half Life [click the links for video clips] to recreate the interiors of art galleries, including The Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius and Stockholm's Modern Museum of Art. Entitled "Museum Meltdown", the work has been shown at the Lyon Biennale, the Kunsthalle, Vienna and the Try Again exhibition in Madrid.

Palle Torsson and Tobias Berstrup, 'Museum Meltdown'

More here: Palle Torsson, Museum Meltdown

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Got game?

A few days ago boingboing posted a link to games designer Jane McGonigal's TED talk on how spending more time playing video games will help make the world a better place. McGonigal's talk (more on the TED page here) was illustrated by some of Phillip Toledano's Gamers series of photographs.

Several more of Toledano's Gamers pics were used to illustrate an interesting article in today's Observer magazine. In "More Than A Game" writer Tom Bissell reflects on the amount of time he spent playing GTA IV when he should have been writing. As the standfirst puts it:

Tom Bissell was an acclaimed, prize-winning youg writer. Then he started playing the video game Grand Theft Auto. For three years he has been: sleep-deprived, cocaine-addicted, and barely able to write a word. Any regrets? Absolutely none"

As well as affecting his writing, excessive game-play (and nose-play) also affected his reading. As Bissell observes, "Writing and reading allow one consciousness to find and take shelter in another." He goes on to remark "the most consistently pleasurable pursuit in my life is playing video games. Unfortunately, the least useful and financially solvent pursuit is also playing video games".

(NB: Toledano's photos aren't used in the online version of the article.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Doing it alone versus doing it with others

Naomi Alderman has endured the travails of watching commercial television to observe that Nintendo is pushing the "social" aspects of gaming by employing the nation's most loved gurning northern lads to pretend to play with a Wii whilst a southern pair of Balls pretend to play with a DS. Alderman remarks that while playing with or against someone else is seen as an inherently "good" thing, she prefers to play by herself.

The original post is here:

Interestingly, in a revised version of the piece, posted a few days later, guilt and the "Protestant work ethic" seem to have excised Alderman's inclination to extol the joys of solo-gaming. The revised version is here:

Also cut from the reworked piece is a link to an interesting article on game mechanics by Jason Rohrer: "Testing the Limits of Single Player". Rohrer discusses game mechanics and tries to devise a single-player game that offers depth without relying on AI or randomness. While he thinks it can't be done, he comes up with something called i45hg which, although "reasonably interesting" for a few turns, doesn't feel like a real game.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Flash educational game competition

Cambridge ESOL is offering a 32" television and PS3 as first prize in their competition to design an educational game in Flash for 10-12 year-olds who are learning English as a second language. Sony PSP consoles are offered as runner-up prizes.

Ian Cook, of Cambridge ESOL says:

"Creative approaches to education are so important when teaching children new skills. We’re looking for simple, fun games that will motivate children to learn and practise their English – a skill that will be of use to them their entire lives".

Competition judges include Gareth Hughes, Senior Designer at Sony Computer Entertainment's Cambridge Studio, Steve Harris of Anglia Ruskin University and Bafta-nominated games designer Dan Mayers of UCS.

The competition is open to all undergraduate and postgraduate students at UK universities. The closing date is 20th May 2010.

Further details are available here; here are the rules and the entry form is here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I'm Free!

There's nothing like a freebie. Here's some free stuff:

Need to convert a file from one format to another?

Free online conversion services

The online graphics and audio suite, Aviary, is now free: it includes applications for editing graphics, creating vector graphics, adding special effects, resizing and cropping, creating colour swatches, and an audio editor

SVG-edit is a free online SVG editor.


Israeli novelist Assaf Gavron was one of the guests on this morning's Midweek. As well as pounding plastic keys as a wordsmith, Gavron has also turned his talents to games design and has created Peacemaker, which would be, one supposes, the opposite of a shoot 'em up.

Players take the role of either the Palestinian President or the Prime Minister of Israel and the object of the game is to sort out the mess.

Considering the juxtaposition of this with the previous post, a "new experience" could be had from this by plunging the region into chaos and watching the bullets and stones fly. No, wait ...

Subervting the Game

There's a nice post on the Guardian Games Blog about "getting new experiences out of old games" which is a circumlocutory way of saying subverting the game. The link in the Guardian blog post to a Rollercoaster Tycoon crash video no longer leads to the video as it's been taken off the site, but there are plenty to be found on the popular video sharing sites.

Alice and Kev

Other new ways to play old games include trying to get by in The Sims 3 without a house and a job, as related in the Alice and Kev blog by Robin Burkinshaw, and lugging a gnome around in Half Life 2, as descibed by Tom Francis here in order to launch him into space to get the Gnome Achievement.

The Half Life 2 Gnome

Monday, February 15, 2010

This Week Only: Indie Love Bundle

The Indie Love Bundle from hemisphere games on Vimeo.

Boing Boing has posted a piece about a wonderful bundle of six indie PC games, currently on offer for a limited period for a trifling twenty dollars:

  • Machinarium (Amanita)

  • And Yet It Moves (Broken Rules)

  • Auditorium (Cipher Prime)

  • Aztaka (Citeremis)

  • Hemisphere (Osmos)

  • Eufloria (Omni Systems)

There are video previews of all six on Boing Boing: