From Babylonians to Boardgames

September 6, 2009

What do the movement of the Earth around the Sun has in common with boardgames like Settlers of Catan? That’s what I found and thought it would be interesting to share.

All this started when I read two following paragraphs talking one about the 360 degrees of a circle and the 365 days of a year the later, I immediately thought that maybe there was a relationship between them and did a little research on the internet.

It turns out that many people say there is a relationship and many more accredited say it’s just a coincidence, but if you read with attention you will notice that it may be a relationship, perhaps not a very direct one, but certainly some type of it.

According to this is all just a coincidence, but as we start to read different sources we can find references to the sexagesimal system developed (or at least used) by the Babylonians and many different theories of how they got to develop it, like in here or here and most interestingly in here, also relating all this to why we have 24 hours in a day and 60 minutes in an hour and 60 seconds in a minute.

All these has several sources backing it up and is widely accepted, but the relationship exists, and let me tell you why: Is not from the Earth movement around the Sun but the other way around, it’s from having a circle divided into 360 pieces and the proximity of that number with the 365+ days of the year. In ancient times is very common to find calendars of 360 days divided into 12 months of 30 days. Knowing ancient cultures and more noticeably the Greeks we know that they have the circle and the sphere as the “perfect” shapes, and combining it with the idea of beginning and end joining at the same point, is not hard to relate that shape with the recording of Time.

And when we look at how astronomers believed the cosmos was shaped, besides believing the Earth was in the center, all of them, until Kepler found the truth, thought that the planets moved in “perfect” circles, and the days are just how many times the Earth rotate on its own axis while traveling around the Sun, a travel that takes a little bit more than 360 of these rotations.

But the paper that impressed me the most was this one which makes a geometric relation between a circle and an hexagon, and from there is that we can relate it with boardgames like Settlers of Catan, as this type of games uses the properties of the hexagon in deciding player movements, because contrary to a square board any hexagon in which you are is at the same distance of any other one in the board no matter the road you choose.

It’s very interesting how, from ancient times and still in today’s world, we are still influenced and ruled by mathematical and astronomical notions even in the smaller things. Perhaps it will amaze you even more if you try to pay attention to little things of every day life like this. As for me, I think I’m going to start ordering my pizzas in 6 or 12 slices instead of 8, you know, for diet’s sake 😉

Summer reading

June 21, 2009

I’m taking summer-classes this year but in the brief period between those and the end of the last semester I bought three books that I wanted to read and I’m going to review it for you here.

The first one I read was “The Gold Standard” by Mike Krzyzewski, it recounts how the USA Basketball Olympic Team got formed and the process used to build it and meet the goal of winning the Gold Medal on the 2008 Olympic Games. It’s clearly trying to catch the business aspect of forming a team, but for those looking for a sports book I can tell you’re not going to be disappointed, it tells about the behind the scenes of a team formed by great stars like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and how to make them work together and build truly a team. Overall a great reading, you can learn from this book, mostly how to be a team player and of course how to create and lead a team.

Next was “T-Minus: Race to the Moon” by Jim Ottaviani, Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon. This is a graphic novel about the behind the scenes of the Space Race of the ’60 and ’70 between USA and the USSR. Although it would be nice if it was longer it meets the expectations, you get to know the internal fights and stretch time-lines both programs had and much more about how the Soviet program worked, at least I didn’t know that it was so dependent of only one man and who that men was and how brilliant he was. Great reading, fun and informative at the same timed.

The last one was a book I was trying to read since a long time, “A Theory of Fun for Game Design” by Raph Koster. Certainly it’s what everyone is saying about it, an instant classic and a must for those wanting to work on the gaming industry and even for those willing to know why we play games and how to make them in a successful manner. After reading it I truly believe it changed my way of thinking on certain aspects and I was able to identify past behaviors of mine on play situations and the actual reasons of my reactions. A book to read once and consult every time you need it and of course one to recommend to everyone.

Adventure Games Are Back

May 29, 2009

I’ve always loved this type of games, and I think almost everyone from my days grew up playing them. Games like Monkey Island, Loom, Maniac Mansion, King’s Quest, Simon The Sorcerer, Eco Quest, and a lot more shaped the minds and remembrances of several generations.

A couple of years ago I discovered Adventure Game Studio, it is a tool that allow you to make your own Adventure Games just by “configuring it”. Examples of that can be found on its website, but let me suggest you No Action Jackson, a game with a Day of the Tentacle style.

After that I started seeing how many people were trying to produce this type of games for the browser. Tools like Web Adventure Kit, ScummVM or Flash-Scumm will help to do that, these are the ones I’m aware of, I’m sure there’s many more out there.

These tools will allow developers to reach more players and ease the distribution of the games, also making them easy to produce. One such place that takes advantage of this is, and it does it with a nice twist, you can see what other players are doing on the same game while you play it.

The sole existence of a site like Adventure Gamers tells us that this genre is not dead and we can feel, by the amount of adventures lately released, that is coming back. I sure will enjoy the second Golden Age of the Graphic Adventure Games, and that is not far away in the future.

Ten Tips to be a Game Designer

March 21, 2009

Yesterday I came across this article on Game Career Guide website about the ten things you should be doing or practicing to become a Game Designer and I couldn’t resist the temptation to see what I’ve already done and what is remaining in my path to become one. So let’s start with it.

1. Write a game design document: No, I haven’t done this yet and is probably the first one I should do on the list, although I’m still writing the story for the Graphic Adventure Game I have in mind, maybe I could merge those two.

2. Build a 3D level: No, haven’t done it, and I’m guessing it will be a really time consuming task, for now I’m going to push it back a little more.

3. Write a game script: The article means coding in this case and I can say I did this, so is one Yes on the list. Check.

4. Make a game, or a mod: Done it, another yes, whohoo!

5. Learn to mock things up in flash: Hmmm, this is a difficult one, I used to do thing in flash a while ago, but I’m using other things now like GameMaker, but I think it will count as a yes. Check.

6. Be an enabler: Well, I guess other people should be more qualified to say this about me, but all in all I think I belong to this kind of people.

7. Dissect games and their mechanics, even bad ones: Oh yes, I do this a lot, maybe I don’t put it in writing, which I should be doing in some degree, but this is another Yes.

8. Build an online portfolio: In the process, in the process. Check.

9. Work on your communication skills: Well, this blog is just that so I can say I’m doing it, also with other several activities I’m doing like going to College and posting on other English and Spanish blogs as well.

10. Learn something new every day: Hell Yeah! And I encourage anyone to do the same no matter what are you doing or your dreams are.

Result: 2 No’s and 8 Yes’

Hey, not that bad eh!? Well I guess I should be focusing my efforts on writing a GDD and doing some 3D stuff to have it all, not to worry really, but fun stuff to do anyway.

Game on! Art in a game

March 14, 2009

Video Games are Art? I say YES, and a lot of other people is with me, but as the definition of art is still to be decided too much people still thinks that video games are just that childish thing that make kids go out killing others or adoring the devil.

Well is good to know that around the globe more and more there’s people putting this type of events together so we can see and hear stories about artists making games.

This time the event is going to be in Buenos Aires and the name of it is Game on! Art in a game. For those that have the opportunity to assist I’m sure it will be a good experience, not only because you’re going to discover a part of video games that you didn’t think exists, but because you’re going to find the best of the best of the Video Game Scene of Argentina, one that is growing immensely the last years and is getting worldwide noticing for its achievements.

No Action Jackson

January 25, 2009

Surfing games websites trying to find an Adventure game to play I met “No Action Jackson“, this game has the same atmosphere than DOTT, a game that I loved to play back in the ’90. Not only has the same kind of humor and graphics but you can see little jokes and reminiscences all over the game what makes it better. The only bad news is that it was kind of abandoned and not finished and has many bugs, but you still can play it and the quality is fairly high. It’s made using Adventure Game Studio which I recommend if you just want to spend time developing the story and not programming yet another engine.

These are the links to get it: TIGdb, AGS Page.

And talking about reminiscences and indie games evoking the classics here is one that is still in process but that looks like is going to be a big hit when it get released, and I’m proud to say that comes from Argentina. The name of the project is Monkey Island Zero, they’re also using AGS as the engine and trying to tell the story before Monkey Island 1. The best of luck for these guys and hope to play the game soon.

Dare to Dream

January 19, 2009

Recently added as a new “dimension” of the Dare to be Digital Challenge, is focused on open the doors for the imagination from everyone, from everywhere.

For those of you who don’t know the contest:

Dare to be Digital is the UK’s premier video games design competition open to international university students. In its 10th anniversary year, Dare is expanding its focus to give an exciting new dimension to the gaming culture.

So basically in this edition there are two parts, the first is the one that is open for everyone, there you can submit your ideas for a game and comment and rate the ideas of others (in fact, you can also vote for your idea). After the community has rated the ideas the next part of the contest, the production of the prototypes will start, with teams selecting from the top 10 ideas.

I see this as an interesting twist to the normal contests, but let’s see how it works because I guess the ideas that are going to be submitted are those who the designers are not so attached to and could end up being not that good. Of course, as the teams then has freedom to change it or reinterpret it, well, it could end up being a good one after all.

Take a look at the ones already submitted and why not? Submit your own!