Tag Archives: Video Games

Immersive Journalism and Newsgames

I’m going to be honest with you, I haven’t been paying that much attention to what’s been going on in Syria. I know it’s bad and I’ve tried to bring myself up to date from time to time on the latest part of the ongoing conflict. But truthfully, I have no day to day awareness of the conflict, it’s potential solutions, and it’s ongoing human toll in anything more than an abstract way.

I suspect I’m not alone in this.

That’s why programs like Project Syria intrigue me. It’s a four and a half minute sequence you view through virtual reality goggles and headphones. It takes you onto the streets of Aleppo during a mortar attack. The scene is accurately mapped, down to real recorded audio, and the patterns of people through the crowded streets. Producer Nonny de la Pena terms this Immersive Journalism. Instead of crafting an article or shooting a documentary, de la Pena has created an experience. While not everyone has a pair of virtual goggles and headphones, de la Pena sees immersive journalism taking the form of apps you can send to smart phones to allow you to witness scenes shortly after they happen.

Consuming the news is a passive experience, while gaming is an active experience, and programs like Project Syria are not the first attempt at Newsgames: games that simulate current events through a variety of means.

One of the notable early examples of this genre is Darfur is Dying. Centered around the refugee crisis in Darfur you play as a member of a village going out to get water. You must travel a very long distance and dodge patrols all while having very little cover and being on foot while you are being chased from vehicles. Once you get back to the village (which is not easy to do), you must distribute the water to grow crops, help the thirsty and construct homes while still under the threat of attack.

A more recent example uses an old form of computer gaming, Interactive Fiction (though the game itself seems closer to Choose Your Own Adventure). 1000 days in Syria lets you choose to see through the eyes of the family, the fighter or the foreigner through a 1000 day narrative, beginning in 2011. While the gameplay elements are simple and involve a lot of reading, your choices matter and steer the destinies of these people, in so much as you can given what is going on around you.

Both of these games have links to places you can make a real difference. They try to tell a true story through a fictionalized account. And while these might be journalism of a kind, they are also activism. The activism is less about taking a particular stand in a conflict, and more about getting you to care, and in a more concrete way than the abstract way so many of us care.

As Americans not directly involved in the conflict, we have the luxury of consuming the news we want to consume. If we go to the news to hear about politics, we can. If we go to the news to find out about what’s going on in our community, we can. And we can go to the news to be amused or uplifted. Sure we can also find out about what’s going on in the world, but we don’t have to. In a way it’s a shame these games have to exist, that traditional media isn’t enough to get the message to us.

I know bad news can be fatiguing. And I think even the best of us only have the ability to really emotionally commit to a few things we care about. And I’m not saying that Syria or Darfur or ISIS or Boko Haram are the things or the threats you need to care about. But maybe at least a little of our play can be spent seeing the world as other’s see it.


Just a quick reminder, you can get Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach for $2.99 until 11am tomorrow. That’s 40% off for hundreds of fractal images and guides for a variety of fractalizing techniques. Also Fractals You Can Draw is FREE today only!

1 Comment

Filed under Trube On Tech

Why you should spend more time on the Internet’s library

Internet_Archive_logo_and_wordmarkI’ve used the Internet Archive for years. It’s where I discovered Over The Rhine, John Holowach and Tryad, Two Zombies Later and a ridiculous amount of concerts and community artists.

It’s a great resource for old books too, be it public domain works from Project Gutenberg or LibriVox recordings of The Lost World.

It’s also where I discovered a lot of great machinima including an old Star Wars classic “A Great and Majestic Empire”. Do yourself a favor and at least watch episodes 14 and 15 (though sadly this series doesn’t have much of a proper end, but it’s still amusing to have British, Irish and Scottish accents in storm troopers).

And if you’ve never played, or even seen, LucasArt’s classic Grim Fandango, there’s a full playthrough here.

The point is there’s a lot of cool stuff*, for geeks of all sorts.

And it just got even better.

If you’ve been a long time reader of the blog, you probably know one of my hobbies is getting old games to work on modern systems with the help of tools like DosBox and ScummVM. Till now if you heard about a cool old game you’d like to try you either had to download a copy of a game from an abandonware site, or buy a copy from GOG or a used store. But the Internet Archive has struck again, releasing several thousand old DOS games that you can play right in your browser. Remember Doom or Commander Keen? Well now you can indulge your nostalgia. For the moment you can’t save your game, but you can at least get a feel for how we gamed in the 80’s and 90’s (and how some of us still do). You can browse the whole library here, but here are a couple of titles you should check out now.

Note: What’s in the collection may fluctuate. I saw Sierra’s Quest games in the collection earlier this week, but they now appear to have been removed. Probably some of this is going to be subject to copyright.

Lost Interplay Titles, particularly Wasteland (the predecessor to Fallout) and Star Trek 25th Anniversary. Also a video game version of William Gibson’s Neuromancer.


The aforementioned Commander Keen, particularly episode 5.

A whole treasure trove of Carmen Sandiego games (got you singing the theme right?). I played the deluxe Where in the World on my first computer.

Some old Lucasarts favorites Zac McKracken and Maniac Mansion.

And thousands more.

As it turns out the Internet Archive has been awesome in this department for a while. In my searching for games in the Archive I stumbled upon another collection of IBM PC CD-ROM’s from the 90’s. Not a particularly huge collection but it does include my favorite Star Trek Adventure Game, the third chapter of the Monkey Island series and something that may Shock you.

Note: All of these materials are provided for academic and scholarly purposes, so if you’re going to play System Shock, write a paper (or a book) about it 🙂 I don’t have to write one since I have an original sitting in my personal archive but I might for some of this other stuff 😉

Oh and there’s one other thing you can find on the Internet Archive, me. Turns out they’re a great place to host eBook content that I want to give away for free, but retain some Creative Commons licensing and have the site not cost me anything. Starting this time next week, new chapters of the serial novella will appear on the archive. In the meantime, I put up an old story from the first year of this blog in eBook formats for your enjoyment.

If you haven’t checked out the archive at all, just spend a half an hour browsing. I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll like and would never have heard of otherwise.

*Oooh ooh and I almost forgot to mention old Computer Chronicles videos. Want to know what the 80’s and 90’s thought the future of computing was going to be? Check it out here.


Filed under AGFV, Trube On Tech

Trube on Tech: WordPress eBooks and Star Trek Games

This week I got a couple of questions on some older posts asking for a little tech assistance. Rather than reply in the comments, I thought a special post would best serve to answer their questions, or those of anyone else in the future:

ennoundinga asks on Converting Your WordPress Blog to an eBook (Part 2)  : In my Blog export I would like to grab the comments also. Do you think there is a chance to extend the XSL transformation to evaluate the comments?

For my solution I wanted to do two things:

  • Add a “Comments” header if comments existed, and hide it if there are none
  • Format comments with the comment author and comment content

Testing for the existence of comment elements can be accomplished with an xsl:if test:

<xsl:if test="./wp:comment[1]">

The xpath statement “./wp:comment[1]” looks for the first comment element that is a child of the current post. If one is found the “Comments” header is printed. If not the parser moves on to the next post.

If comments are present the following code will format them into our working HTML:

<xsl:for-each select="wp:comment">
  <xsl:for-each select="wp:comment_author">
    <xsl:call-template name="print-paras"/>
  <xsl:for-each select="wp:comment_content">
    <xsl:call-template name="print-paras"/>

Both the comment content and author name are stored in CDATA statements and need to be processed by our print-paras template. This code will format the comment like this:

Name of Commenter

What the commenter said in all its glorious detail.

I’ve uploaded an update to the XSL template here (again note since WordPress has filename restrictions the extension has been renamed .xls).

Next question, I’m on a rampage!

WZ writes on AGFV: 20 years of Star Trek 25th AnniversaryBen: Followed your instructions carefully for Star Trek 25th using DBGL, but I only have the CD not floppies version. DBGL is fine. This game appears to not run because (per dos window) the game is looking for a CD to be in the CD drive. But need this to run from the hard disk instead because of physical disability makes it hard to always be putting cd’s in and out of the drive bay. Is the CD game version hardcoded to only run from CD bay? Please reply to my email… Thanks for your gaming blog, it’s great, I enjoyed all your gaming entries.

As it happens, I was reorganizing some of my DBGL files this week (no joke) and managed to create a solution to this very problem.

The 25th Anniversary Enhanced Edition CD-ROM is a little unusual. It’s an Enhanced CD, meaning it has both CD Audio content and CD data content. This means it can’t be fully ripped to an ISO image, since ISO’s only deal with CD data. But there are programs available that allow you to rip an enhanced CD, one such being CloneCD.

To rip an enhanced CD using CloneCD:

1) Open CloneCD and click Read to Image File:


2) CloneCD will analyze the disc in the drive, and ask you to select the type of CD. Many selections will work for our purposes, but for now select Game CD:


3) Browse to a folder and choose a name for your file (the program will actually create four different files so maybe store in a blank folder). Check the box next to Create “Cue-Sheet”:


4) Click OK to begin ripping the CD:


5) When you’re finished your folder will contain four files that will look something like this:


6) Create a folder in dbgl\dosroot called TREKCD (full path dbgl\dosroot\TREKCD). Copy the folder containing your ripped CD to this folder.

7) You’ll need to install the game from the CD first, then set DBGL to run it. Add a mount for the C drive to the TREKCD sub-folder. Add another mount for the D drive and select the Mount Image(s) radio button. Click Browse, browse to your CUE file and select it as the mount point.


8) With the imgmount selected, click the Grab button next to the main then Browse to add files from the CD image to run at startup. Select INSTALL.EXE. Your run window should look like this:


9) Click OK, and run the file to run the install program. When the installation is finished copy the files it installed into your TREKCD folder. Your final directory should look something like this (you may not have the CFG or savegame files):


10) Edit the Profile again and change the Main to STARTREK.EXE in the TREKCD folder, and Setup to SETUP.EXE (in the same folder). Your final setup should look like this:


Note: You probably want to set your machine to 7500 cycles for optimum performance.


And you should be good to go. Let me know if you have any further questions.



Filed under AGFV, Trube On Tech, Writing

WASD – War Ain’t So Delightful

Apologies for the use of the word “ain’t” in the title. For those of you for whom this is a deal-breaker, I understand.

The American Red Cross is working with video game designers to incorporate the Geneva conventions into their games. In the latest Call of Duty if you go to third floor of the bombed out hospital you’ll find a copy in the administrator’s locked desk, though you’ll need a grenade to open it, which unfortunately destroys both desk and the conventions.

Just kidding 🙂

But the first part’s very real. For right now the actions are very simple, if you start shooting at civilians, your own men might start shooting at you, or you might lose credit for a mission if you torture a prisoner, etc.

This got me to thinking less about video game violence, which is a topic discussed ad nauseam, and more about video game ethics.

I think there are three kinds of ethical situations in video games:

1) I have to do this bad thing to advance the game. (i.e. Grand Theft Auto)

2) I can do this bad thing, but it might have consequences for me later. (i.e. The Witcher)

3) I can do anything I want with no consequences. (i.e. Postal)

Here’s a simple example of number 3. This last weekend I basically spent something like 12-15 hours casually playing Avadon: The Black Fortress, a Spiderweb software RPG where you control a party of adventurers in an isometric landscape and fight monsters and giant spiders and the like. There are lots of hidden objects in chests, closets or out in the open, some of which are marked “NY”. No, that’s not “made in New York”, but rather “not yours”. Meaning you probably shouldn’t take it, or at least not while the owner is looking. But if you have the opportunity to steal, you can, and with few consequences (except apparently one shopkeeper who refuses to deal with you if you steal their merchandise but I have yet to encounter this).


Now on the one hand taking these objects really can make the game go smoother. And the ones you don’t really need, can be sold for coins which are hard to amass otherwise. But, stealing is wrong, and this game basically encourages it to advance (something that apparently differs from their earlier titles).

How should we feel about this? Should Spiderweb change their game to put back consequences for stealing (turning it into an example of scenario number 2), or just remove the “NY” label altogether to alleviate our guilt?

Let’s look at another example, The WitcherThe Witcher has some very sophisticated moral choices, and some shades of gray. Alliances are formed, enemies made, based on your choices.

And, it also includes a lot of dialogue trees that if successful allow you to bed more than a dozen beautiful women, and collect playing cards of your various sexual encounters.

Here’s one of the tamer ones:

Playing Card Triss

So there are consequences to your actions, just not any that prevent you from sleeping with as many as 24 women. Yeah, I know it’s faithful to the source material for this game, and it’s also a bit prurient (or deviant in some cases depending on how you feel about semi-demonic women) so let’s not kid ourselves. But I hear it’s got nothing on Game of Thrones.


A better example of both scenario’s 1 +2 is Fahrenheit (otherwise known as Indigo Prophecy). In this game you are trying to evade the police because you’ve been framed for a murder you didn’t commit. Well, kinda. Actually you did commit it, but you were possessed by some kind of demon. And you’re also playing the cops trying to find you, while at the same time hiding evidence.

Indigo Prophecy 4

The game is fraught with consequences. Your character has a general mood which increases or decreases based on your success in the game. Let this mood get too low, and they might commit suicide, or quit their job, go on a bender, etc. Here’s a scenario from early on in the game, you’re in a park. It’s winter and a boy has just fallen through a hole in the ice. He’s trapped and is going to freeze and/or drown if you don’t help. But, there are cops not too far away (not close enough to save the boy, but close enough to spot you when you drag him out of the water). If you leave the boy you end up feeling terrible, if you save him you risk getting caught. What do you do?

There are points in this game where you have to do the wrong thing. You have to hide the body, destroy evidence, etc. But there are a myriad of others where it’s not clear what you should do, and the consequences play out over hours, not seconds of gameplay.

I guess that’s the point I’m meandering towards, life does have some instant consequences for bad actions, but more often than not their impact is felt over a long period of time. Or not at all. Like any form of media, video games can explore these dynamics, and the best ones do. There will probably always be parts of games we don’t like, or that we think aren’t very moral, but games can also make us think, and play out different scenarios and see where they go.

1 Comment

Filed under Trube On Tech