Flutterby™! : Video Games, Day 3

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Video Games, Day 3

2020-04-26 16:14:53.634333+00 by Dan Lyke 0 comments

Influential video games, day 3: Taipan! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the title)

I think you can draw a line through the old BASIC game Hammurabi through Lemonade Stand, Taipan, and on through Drugwars, even into modern resource management games (including cow-clickers). Probably making a stop in Chris Crawford's "Balance of Power" nuclear detente simulation along the way.

In essence, there's some sort of basic iterated function system, and a random number generator, and the game is about the player trying to optimize for the combination of the two of them.

Taipan, though, had a cool bug: There was a loan shark, Elder Brother Wu: You needed capital to expand your shipping operation, Elder Brother Wu might offer you a loan. You had to be pretty hard-up to take the loan, or you had to have discovered the bug: If you paid back Elder Brother Wu exactly the amount owed, the loan was wiped.

If you paid him back *more* than the amount owed, Elder Brother Wu paid you interest.

"Winning" the game involved making a million of whatever the currency was. It started printing gobbeldygook after a trillion (which, of course, also makes me think about how they were doing number bases).

A note about "Balance of Power": I remember installing this, complete with Microsoft Windows 1.whatever it was necessary to run it. I never really found it an interesting game, I think because the game kind-of assumed that as the player you understood the limits of Presidential and foreign policy power, and I didn't, at that time.

But the book about the design of Balance of Power was really cool, and had a prominent place on my bookshelf. In the 2000 era I had a chance to go to the first Phrontisterion conference on interactive drama, hosted at Chris Crawford's ranch outside of Jackson, Oregon, and I think that's where my fascination with games really either started to wane, or sank hard.

There were a bunch of really interesting game people there, and a bunch of novelists and fiction folks, and though it started as a round-table, after not terribly long the conference bifurcated into two groups: The traditional gamers, who were talking about more of the kind-of "on rails" notions that were making their way into gaming at the time (witness things like Half-Life 2, which doesn't really have a whole lot of user choice, and jumps through hoops to maintain a certain level of engagement such that if you want to do a fast play-through you let your health go down to 10% or so and the enemies suddenly can't hit anything), where the novelists were talking about player choice and complex psychological and sociological models for trying to build interactions, which is fun for simulation, but is it still story if your flawed hero can see his flaws and work out an actual solution to the story conflict?

Which, I think, was what Taipan! showed me earlier: There's only so much entertainment in optimizing non-linear systems, it's cool to find the bugs and the flaws in those systems, and at some point the map is not the territory: There's only so much the games can teach us about our larger influence on our communities and the cultures around us.

[ related topics: Interactive Drama Humor Books Games Psychology, Psychiatry and Personality Microsoft Health moron Work, productivity and environment Mathematics Graphic Design Community Currency Maps and Mapping Video Conferences Furniture ]

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