You Don’t Know Jack lives again

A long, long time ago in the early days of ‘multimedia’ most games available were stilted click-throughs of badly rendered 3D images. The exception was the highly successful Myst, a stilted click through of really well rendered 3D worlds with some annoyingly good puzzles thrown in. The problem was that CD-ROM drives were slow (you know that 48x written on your drive? 1 x was 150 KB/s – maybe you’re too young to remember…). Slowness meant that big graphics took ages to load or you had to transfer the contents of the CD to your hard drive, but with a hard drive not much bigger than the contents of a CD-ROM, this wasn’t always possible.

Then, in 1995, came a game called You Don’t Know Jack (YDKJ) by a company called Jellyvision that, along with Gerad Van Der Kaap’s BlindRom, was exactly the way I felt multimedia should be – swift, amusing, surprising and seamless. Jellyvision cleverly chose a TV quiz show format that wasn’t graphic intensive. Instead of tiny, stuttering video clips of a presenter, they relied on a spankingly crisp and razor sharp audio track of the quizmaster, Cookie. With some clever background loading as well as some brilliant writing, the game still feels better than many equivalents today and this was 15 years ago.

The other aspect of YDKJ that most other quiz’s missed was it’s acknowledgement of the medium. It didn’t try to pretend it was a real TV show, but used the trappings of a show while making nods to the computer it was running on. As the CD-ROM loaded we were treated to the sound of the show’s band practicing, the floor manager calling out for everyone to get ready and to “kill the Desktop”, which was the equivalent of killing the lights and, of course, your Desktop went black and you were in the world of the show. Then the title music rolled and Cookie introduced himself and the show. In terms of the interactive experience, you didn’t feel like you were outside the show, but in it. It’s a subtle difference with a huge effect on the sense of engagement.

The first CD-ROM was Mac and Windows, but then it ended up as a Windows only series for a while and I thought it had died. Then, while hoping they might make a version for iOS (it would be great), I stumbled upon the You Don’t Know Jack website, which seems to have a cult following. Best of all, they offer a (slightly cut-down) version of the game online and you can embed it, so here it is:

Sparks – Playful Innovation


Philips Design has created a boardgame called Spark to help generate insights. It looks like it is a pretty simple premise – there are a set of characters (basic personas) and a set of situations. As you roll the dice and the characters land on the situations, you have to brainstorm the implications.

According to Slava Kozlov, Senior Consultant in Strategic Futures Design at Philips Design:

“You can experiment without taking risks. Suspend your values and beliefs and adopt different roles which allow you to consider issues from a different angle. Learn how to deal with new situations effectively. Think more unconventionally while remaining relevant. And, in the process, enjoy yourself more!”

In many respects it’s not all that innovative. Personas and scenarios are often used in brainstorming sessions. But one of the aims of this approach seems to be to take the activity away from the slightly forced nature of some brainstorming sessions. In theory (as much research shows) the more participants’ minds relax into a playful state, the more laterally creative they should start to think.

There is a quite a bit of talk in the PDF article about “serious games” and a mention of The Serious Games Institute. I’m not a fan of this kind of terminology, the same as the idea of serious play. I understand why people use this, but it is an immediately apologetic framing of play. Play is play and it is important – it doesn’t need the prefix of being serious to make it so. It doesn’t do much to advance the value of play.

As for the game, I can imagine in a corporate culture that this could be a useful tool allowing people to enter into a suspended-judgement, creative idea generation space because is “only a game”. Of course the flipside could also be the case – that it or its outcomes are not taken seriously because it’s a game. It is good to see these ideas becoming more accepted and mainstream though.

There’s a video of Birgitta ten Napel talking about the game on the Philips site too.

Chrome Experiments


Josh Nimoy has made a version of his (unpleasantly named) Ball Droppings piece for Google’s Chrome Experiments site. Simple and addictive, you basically draw lines and adjust the dropping rate to set the balls in bouncy, musical motion. The Javascript version doesn’t work in Safari (sigh), but Firefox on the Mac does the job.

The whole Chrome Experiments site is worth poking around – there are some nice interactive toys there. Casey Reas’ Twitch is a fun set of little challenges that move from browser window to browser window:


Christoph Résigné’s Amiga Workbench Emulator is ridiculous, but very well done too.

Browser Ball is a ball that you can throw around different browser windows. Its author, Mark Mahoney asks, “If I tell you it’s less lame than it sounds, will you give it a shot?” It is, indeed, less lame than it sounds and strangely compelling (though it send my CPU crazy).

There are plenty more of these little experiments with the technology. It will be great to see if Google Chrome is actually any good once it comes to the Mac (I haven’t tried it in BootCamp yet), but many of these experiments work in other browsers.

Exploring these ideas will, no doubt, lead to some interesting applications, but they’re fun in their own right too, so take them in that spirit. The comments say it all:

By Bill the non computer geek on April 01, 2009
Saw the demo. So just what does this do? I see a ball bouncing to different windows……so?

By sam on April 29, 2009
you shouldnt be here

(Thanks to Rachel for the heads up).

Playing Word Games in Blog Comments


I just noticed a whole series of word-association and other games going on in the comments of Fail Blog posts. I have no idea if this is a new phenomenon, but I haven’t seen it before. Nor is it clear if any of these people know each other from elsewhere, but there is a whole little community gameplay scene that appears to spontaneously twist and turn.

I always find it fascinating how people will bend almost any activity towards play and communication. Blog comments are of course already set up for communication, but it’s the ability to have them nested on Fail Blog that seems to create a the boundaries for the playfulness.

Is this something new or have I just been in a cave or something? Anyone know of other examples of this happening?

The Unfinished Swan

The Unfinished Swan – Tech Demo 9/2008 from Ian Dallas on Vimeo.

The Unfinished Swan is a still in-development game set in an entirely white world. Instead of splattering the blood of monsters around the walls, the player splatters black ink to find their way through “an unusual garden”. Apart from looking stunning in its simplicity (and somewhat like Sin City), there are some nice twists when, for example, the entire scene is in the dark and thus blacked out.

It’s the second such game I’ve seen recently that uses this kind of lateral thinking approach to the play. Portal uses a simple idea – a gun that can fire portals onto a wall – to develop what is, by all accounts, a very compelling game. You can watch the trailer on YouTube – ignore the irritating 1990s robo-voice though. (There is also a fan-made Flash version of Portal if you want to get the idea).

What I like about both of these is that they really force you to think in a completely different way from the usual first person shooter, even though they’re essentially existing in the same paradigm. Intelligent play. I like it.

(Via Crackunit).

Bandai Pedometer Games


Get off your ass. Assuming that is a donkey there, you’ll need to walk to move through the levels in these new handheld pedometer games by Bandai (warning: awful Google translation ahead).

The games are targeted, strangely, at 30-somethings, which is good because I imagine the first thing a teenager would do is attach it to the family dog to level up quickly.

(Via CScout Japan and Gizmodo).

(And what do you call someone who is really into these gadgets? Pedophile seems just wrong.)

Palin Bingo


A variant of bullshit bingo, Jesper Juul played Palin Bingo during the vice presidential debate (did she really never mention her family?).

I like “Air Space” over her picture in the middle spot.

And in the spirit of the classic <a href=”””>Living Books interactive storybooks, be sure to play Palin as President. It’s quite depressing, especially as she’s going for vice president. You know, the position where its de rigeur to be an idiot and do arms deals on the side.

(Via The Ludologist)

Programming for children


Following on from my post and Nigel’s comments about Clicktoy, I just found Scratch, which is a simple multimedia authoring environment for children. It looks like it outputs to java applets as a playback format.

The team is led by Mitch Resnick at MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten, which would frankly be my dream academic post.

Scratch is free to download and is for Windows and OS X.

[tags]games, programming, multimedia, children, MIT, Scratch[/tags]

Maze Frenzy

Some little games, like Line Rider are simple and instantly addictive.


Quite a few of my students have tried to build something like Maze Frenzy in the past, but this one is great. Just click on the dot and move the mouse. I wasted at least four minutes of my time playing it. Not bad.

There’s also a more difficult version if you’re already the maze master.

[tags]games, maze[/tags]

ClickToy – A game for two year-olds


Image: ClickToy Interactive Inc.

Old skool interaction designers will remember Grandma and Me and the rest of Broderbund’s Living Books series. Those early ‘multimedia’ children’s books were some of the best examples of simple, playful interactivity. Anything on the screen that looked like it could be clicked did something – there was rarely a disappointment. Every tiny corner held a little interactive surprise and was surprisingly compelling. Some of those principles still influence the way I think about interactivity 15 years on.

Much of that approach has been lost in many current videogames, yet the truth is, many two year-olds play around on the computer and most of the stuff available is either a bit too gruesome or a bit too ‘edutainment’ focussed.

Clicktoy by long-time games developer, Ken Kavanagh, is a completely unstructured play environment. The first game, Meadow, is, well, a meadow. You can navigate around the space and press keys to make things happen. That’s it.

Kavanagh says that he was trying to think of something that his two year-old could use and enjoy and spent some time staring at the keyboard. Eventually he boiled it down to the idea that there are 101 buttons and thought, “What can I make happen if you make every button do something different?”.

It’s a good approach to interaction design – look at what you have and think about what you can do with it, rather than dream up something grand and make a half-baked version of the dream. The open-ended play helps make the most of this approach.

“Children’s toys, like Fisher-Price toys, are super simple, they’re sandbox toys, open-ended play, no structure or goal, you just simply play with it,” says Kavanagh. “I wasn’t seeing that in software.”

The meadow, replete with bunny rabbits, deer, bumble bees, rainbows and flowers, was as innocent and as wholesome an environment as he could think of and also reflected his son’s existing soft toy collection.

Press a key and the bunnies hug each other, press another and an acorn falls from a tree and comically bounces of the deer’s head who looks around in surprise.

The lack of any story, which normally drives children’s games is also an interesting aspect, as anyone who has made up a story or watched a child make up a story can attest to.

“Since the game provides no narration I think it’s actually a wonderful opportunity to provide it as a parent. We can make up a story about the bunnies visiting their friends.”

It’ll be interesting to see whether this kind of thing gains ground. There’s no doubt that it’s unlikely that very young children are going to ignore the computer. Letting them play seems like a good idea to me. Taking them to a real meadow to see the living ‘characters’ is probably a good idea too. Like Disney without the associated McDonald’s merchandising.

(Via CBC News)

[tags]games, clicktoy, children, broderbund, living books[/tags]