Posts Tagged ‘A Maze of Twisty Little Passages’

My Labors Are Not Ended

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

lenora at rest in the library

But I am going to take a rest for a bit.

Above you see a shot of my cat Lenora resting in front of the “To Read Science Fiction” section of my Library, the enormous book collection I’ve been accumulating over the last quarter century. I have books older than that, of course, but they’re stored in my mother’s house in my hometown. It’s only over the last 25 years or so have I been accumulating my own personal library.

But why am I, if not resting, at least thinking about it? I finished organizing the books in my Library.

lenora at rest in the library 2

I have an enormous amount of papers, bills, bric a brac and other memorabilia still to organize, file, trash or donate, but the Library itself is organized, at last. It’s even possible to use it.

How organized? Well…

Religion, politics, economics, the environment, women’s studies, Ayn Rand, read books, Lovecraft, centaur books, read urban fantasy, read science fiction, Atlanta, read comics, to-read comics, to-read science fiction magazines, comic reference books, drawing reference books, steampunk, urban fantasy, miscellaneous writing projects, Dakota Frost, books to donate, science fiction to-reads: Asimov, Clarke, Banks, Cherryh, miscellaneous, other fiction to-reads, non-fiction to-reads, general art books, genre art books, BDSM and fetish magazines and art books, fetish and sexuality theory and culture, military, war, law, space travel, astronomy, popular science, physics of time travel, Einstein, quantum mechanics, Feynman, more physics, mathematics, philosophy, martial arts, health, nutrition, home care, ancient computer manuals, more recent computer manuals, popular computer books, the practice of computer programming, programming language theory, ancient computer languages, Web languages, Perl, Java, C and C++, Lisp, APL, the Art of Computer Programming, popular cognitive science, Schankian cognitive science, animal cognition, animal biology, consciousness, dreaming, sleep, emotion, personality, cognitive science theory, brain theory, brain philosophy, evolution, human evolution, cognitive evolution, brain cognition, memory, “Readings in …” various AI and cogsci disciplines, oversized AI and science books, conference proceedings, technical reports, game AI, game development, robotics, imagery, vision, information retrieval, natural language processing, linguistics, popular AI, theory of AI, programming AI, AI textbooks, AI notes from recent projects, notes from college from undergraduate through my thesis, more Dakota Frost, GURPS, other roleplaying games, Magic the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, more Dakota Frost, recent projects, literary theory of Asimov and Clarke, literary theory of science fiction, science fiction shows and TV, writing science fiction, mythology, travel, writing science, writing reference, writers on writing, writing markets, poetry, improv, voice acting, film, writing film, history of literature, representative examples, oversized reference, history, anthropology, dictionaries, thesauri, topical dictionaries, language dictionaries, language learning, Japanese, culture of Japan, recent project papers, comic archives, older project papers, tubs containing things to file … and the single volume version of the Oxford English Dictionary, complete with magnifying glass.

lenora at rest in the library 2

I deliberately left out the details of many categories and outright omitted a few others not stored in the library proper, like my cookbooks, my display shelves of Arkham House editions, Harry Potter and other hardbacks, my “favorite” nonfiction books, some spot reading materials, a stash of transhumanist science fiction, all the technical books I keep in the shelf next to me at work … and, of course, my wife and I’s enormous collection of audiobooks.

What’s really interesting about all that to me is there are far more categories out there in the world not in my Library than there are in my Library. Try it sometime – go into a bookstore or library, or peruse the list of categories in the Library of Congress or Dewey Decimal System Classifications. There’s far more things to think about than even I, a borderline hoarder with a generous income and enormous knowledge of bookstores, have been able to accumulate in a quarter century.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

-the Centaur

The Centaur’s Guide to the Game Developers Conference

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

gdc2013logo.png

Once again it’s time for GDC, the Game Developers Conference. This annual kickstart to my computational creativity is held in the Moscone Center in San Francisco, CA and attracts roughly twenty thousand developers from all over the world.

I’m interested primarily in artificial intelligence for computer games– “Game AI” – and in the past few years they’ve had an AI Summit where game AI programmers can get together to hear neat talks about progress in the field.

Coming from an Academic AI background, what I like about Game AI is that it can’t not work. The AI for a game must work, come hell or high water. It doesn’t need to be principled. It doesn’t need to be real. It can be a random number generator. But it needs to appear to work—it has to affect gameplay, and users have to notice it.

gdc2013aisummit.png

That having been said, there are an enormous number of things getting standard in game artificial intelligence – agents and their properties, actions and decision algorithms, pathfinding and visibility, multiple agent interactions, animation and intent communication, and so forth – and they’re getting better all the time.

I know this is what I’m interested in, so I go to the AI Summit on Monday and Tuesday, some subset of the AI Roundtables, other programming, animation, and tooling talks, and if I can make it, the AI Programmer’s Dinner on Friday night. But if game AI isn’t your bag, what should you do? What should you see?

gdc2013people.png

If you haven’t been before, GDC can be overwhelming. Obviously, try to go to talks that you like, but how do you navigate this enormous complex in downtown San Francisco? I’ve blogged about this before, but it’s worth a refresher. Here are a few tips that I’ve found improve my experience.

Get your stuff done before you arrive. There is a LOT to see at GDC, and every year it seems that a last minute videoconference bleeds over into some talk that I want to see, or some programming task bumps the timeslot I set aside for a blogpost, or a writing task that does the same. Try to get this stuff done before you arrive.

Build a schedule before the conference. You’ll change your mind the day of, but GDC has a great schedule builder that lets you quickly and easily find candidate talks. Use it, email yourself a copy, print one out, save a PDF, whatever. It will help you know where you need to go.

Get a nearby hotel. The 5th and Minna Garage near GDC is very convenient, but driving there, even just in the City, is a pain. GDC hotels are done several months in advance, but if you hunt on Expedia or your favorite aggregator you might find something. Read the reviews carefully and doublecheck with Yelp so you don’t get bedbugs or mugged.

Check in the day before. Stuff starts really early, so if you want to get to early talks, don’t even bother to fly in the same day. I know this seems obvious, but this isn’t a conference that starts at 5pm on the first day with a reception. The first content-filled talks start at 10am on Monday. Challenge mode: you can check in Sunday if you arrive early enough.

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Leave early, find breakfast. Some people don’t care about food, and there’s snacks onsite. Grab a crossaint and cola, or banana and coffee, or whatever. But if you power-up via a good hot breakfast, there are a number of great places to eat nearby – the splendiferous Mo’z Café and the greasy spoon Mel’s leap to mind, but hey, Yelp. A sea of GDC people will be there, and you’ll have the opportunity to network, peoplewatch, and go through your schedule again, even if you don’t find someone to strike up a conversation with.

Ask people who’ve been before what they recommend. This post got started when I left early, got breakfast at Mo’z, and then let some random dude sit down on the table opposite me because the place was too crowded. He didn’t want to disturb my reading, but we talked anyway, and he admitted: “I’ve never been before? What do I do?” Well, I gave him some advice … and then packaged it up into this blogpost. (And this one.)

Network, network, network. Bring business cards. (I am so bad at this!) Take business cards. Introduce yourself to people (but don’t be pushy). Ask what they’re up to. Even if you are looking for a job, you’re not looking for a job: you want people to get to know you first before you stick your hand out. Even if you’re not really looking for a job, you are really looking for a job, three, five or ten years later. I got hired into the Search Engine that Starts with a G from GDC … and I wasn’t even looking.

Learn, learn, learn. Find talks that look like they may answer questions related to problems that you have in your job. Find talks that look directly related to your job. Find talks that look vaguely related to your job. Comb the Expo floor looking for booths that have information even remotely related to your job. Scour the GDC Bookstore for books on anything interesting – but while you’re here: learn, learn, learn.

gdc2013expofloor.png

Leave early if you want lunch or dinner. If you don’t care about a quiet lunch, or you’ve got a group of friends you want to hang with, or colleagues you need to meet with, or have found some people you want to talk to, go with the flow, and feel comfortable using your 30 minute wait to network. But if you’re a harried, slightly antisocial writer with not enough hours in the day needing to work on his or her writing projects aaa aaa they’re chasing me, then leave about 10 minutes before the lunch or dinner rush to find dinner. Nearby places just off the beaten path like the enormous Chevy’s or the slightly farther ’wichcraft are your friends.

Find groups or parties or events to go to. I usually have an already booked schedule, but there are many evening parties. Roundtables break up with people heading to lunch or dinner. There may be guilds or groups or clubs or societies relating to your particular area; find them, and find out where they meet or dine or party or booze. And then network.

gdc2013roundtables.png

Hit Roundtables in person; hit the GDC Vault for conflicts. There are too many talks to go. Really. You’ll have to make sacrifices. Postmortems on classic games are great talks to go to, but pro tip: the GDC Roundtables, where seasoned pros jam with novices trying to answer their questions, are not generally recorded. All other talks usually end up on the GDC Vault, a collection of online recordings of all past sessions, which is expensive unless you…

Get an All Access Pass. Yes, it is expensive. Maybe your company will pay for it; maybe it won’t. But if you really are interested in game development, it’s totally worth it. Bonus: if you come back from year to year, you can get an Alumni discount if you order early. Double bonus: it comes with a GDC Vault subscription.

gdc2013chevys.png

Don’t Commit to Every Talk. There are too many talks to go to. Really. You’ll have to make sacrifices. Make sure you hit the Expo floor. Make sure you meet with friends. Make sure you make an effort to find some friends. Make time to see some of San Francisco. Don’t wear yourself out: go to as much as you can, then soak the rest of it in. Give yourself a breather. Give yourself an extra ten minutes between talks. Heck, leave a talk if you have to if it isn’t panning out, and find a more interesting one.

Get out of your comfort zone. If you’re a programmer, go to a design talk. If you’re a designer, go to a programming talk. Both of you could probably benefit from sitting in on an audio or animation talk, or to get more details about production. What did I say about learn, learn, learn?

Most importantly, have fun. Games are about fun. Producing them can be hard work, but GDC should not feel like work. It should feel like a grand adventure, where you explore parts of the game development experience you haven’t before, an experience of discovery where you recharge your batteries, reconnect with your field, and return home eager to start coding games once again.

-the Centaur

Pictured: The GDC North Hall staircase, with the mammoth holographic projected GDC logo hovering over it. Note: there is no mammoth holographic projected logo. After that, breakfast at Mo’z, the Expo floor, the Roundtables, and lunch at Chevy’s.

Starcraft II Is Here…

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

… God help us: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2010/8/4/

And thank goodness, it’s available for the Mac.

Which means the moment I hit that icon … well, the funny thing would be that I’d say I’d disappear. But, sadly, as my friends know … if I have a choice between playing a computer game I love and have been waiting for for years and writing … I’d rather be writing.

So Starcraft 2 will wait, probably until the weekend.

-the Centaur

IGDA on California’s Video Game Ban

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

I’m a big free speech advocate, and I’m strongly against most well-intentioned attempts to protect us from ourselves – or, more cynically, to protect some people from people whose preferences are different – so this is worth mentioning.

The Independent Game Developer’s Association is filing an amicus brief in the court battle over California’s attempt to ban the sale of violent video games to minors.  Details on the case are here:

http://www.scotusblog.com/2010/04/court-to-rule-on-violent-videos/

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to rule on the constitutionality of a state law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.  The Court accepted for review an appeal by the state of California, urging the Court to adopt a new constitutional standard that would enable states to ban such games for those under age 18.  The case is Schwarzenegger v. Video Software Dealers Association (08-1448).

The Court apparently had been holding the case until it decided another First Amendment case involving violent expression — U.S. v. Stevens (08-769).  In that ruling, issued last Tuesday, the Court struck down a federal law that banned the depiction in videotapes of animal cruelty.  In that ruling, the Justices refused to create a new exception to the First Amendment free speech right.  The Court could have opted to send the California case back to the Ninth Circuit Court to weigh the impact of the Stevens decision. Instead, it simply granted review; the case will be heard and decided in the Court’s next Term, starting Oct.  4.

From IGDA’s call to action:

The IGDA in partnership with the AIAS, is working with the ESA to put together an AMICUS brief to support the decision to revoke this ban and declare this law unconstitutional. With the concept that video/computer/electronic games are a new form of media and art form, our industry should be afforded the freedom of speech protections that have been fought for and won by print, audio and video groups from newspapers to rap artists to filmmakers across the country. We need your help in securing powerful arguments that explain how this industry has evolved into a true profession over the years, and a medium that touches children and adults around the world every day.

So, if you care about your rights to buy videogames, or about giving government yet another tool to control what we see and hear, you might consider weighing in – if not on this court case, if to your elected representatives asking them what on Earth they were thinking in the first place.

-Anthony

Your AI Just Wants To Have Fun

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Upcoming AAAI Workshop: AI and Fun:

Interactive entertainment (aka computer games) has become a dominant force in the entertainment sector of the global economy. The question that needs to be explored in depth: what is the role of artificial intelligence in the entertainment sector? If we accept the premise that artificial intelligence has a role in facilitating the entertainment and engagement of humans, then we are left with new questions…

Papers due March 29…

Screenshots Cannot Do It Justice

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

starcraft 2 screenshots cannot do it justice

So, at GDC 2010, I saw Starcraft II in action for the first time.

Screenshots cannot do it justice.

You know, Starcraft has always had a kind of muddy, visually busy, hard-to-grok visual style which made it less impressive in screenshots than it is when playing the game with knowledge. Starcraft II takes this to a whole new level – it’s still busy, but the tiny incomprehensible units are now clearly visible 3D models, and they’re constantly engaged in animation which displays their personality or explains their shape or just makes them interesting to watch. And there’s some new visual filigree which makes it easier to see what your actions in the game will take.

So if you’re into Starcraft, don’t bother torturing yourself with screenshots. Just get the game when it comes out.

-the Centaur

GDC 2010 Overview

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

gdc 2010 at moscone south

Every year I go to the Game Developers Conference to keep tabs on how artificial intelligence in games is developing. Each year I take copious notes. And each year I promise myself I’ll blog my notes online, and yet I never do.

Until now.

GDC 2010 seems smaller than GDC 2008, but it doesn’t feel wrong. In the past few years it’s been held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, taking up the massive Moscone West building and the North and South halls. I say 2008 because 2010 feels about the size of 2009, but where 2009 felt outsized, this year they’ve ditched Moscone West, filling out North and South “just right” for a smaller, saner, but still vibrant conference.

gdc 2010 show floor

The show floor is still massive, going on and on, filled with books and tools and technologies and games and career opportunities and just about anything you can imagine.

gdc 2010 show floor keeps going

And I mean just about anything. Steve Weibe? Really? No offense, but that seems more of an E3 or Comicon thing. Of course, maybe he’s super cool, but since I missed him at the booth it was just a bit jarring to see the machine there all by its lonesome.

gdc 2010 steve wiebe really

The South Hall held the AI Summit and many interesting talks. I’ll talk about the AI Summit, Starcraft, indie games, and future technologies (past and present) in a subsequent post.

gdc 2010 north entrance

But there is a whole other hall, where more talks are held. The AI Roundtables occurred here, as did talks on the Sims 3; I’ll fold these into the above posts.

gdc 2010 stairs down

But the thing that strikes me about the North Hall (other than the giant black hole of cell reception and borked wifi) is the churn of people going to talks, coming from talks, talking about IP and licenses and techniques and advances. Here, simply because of its physical layout you really can see the industry’s creative malestrom churning.

gdc 2010 make games

“I want YOU to make games.” Indeed.

-the Centaur

Playing Hooky from GDC 2010

Friday, March 12th, 2010

two laptops for two jobs

Today I’m playing “hooky” from GDC 2010. I look forward to GDC every year, where I see friends, catch glimpses of new games, and learn more and more about artificial intelligence and games. But for various reasons (cost, cats) I don’t have a hotel this year, and have been driving up to San Francisco from my house in the South Bay.

It’s fun seeing the gang, especially the always engaging Neil Kirby, and fun watching the speakers, especially the entertaining R.A. Salvatore. But yesterday I spent four hours in the car – two there, two back – a grueling experience in the morning in which I not only missed breakfast, missed the Starcraft talk but almost missed the NEXT talk, and an equally grueling experience in the evening racing home to the Saint Stephen’s in-the-Field Vestry meeting.

I’d have lot more time in my life if I didn’t work two jobs – one by day at the Search Engine That Starts With A G, and one by night as a science fiction author – and so things pile up. By the time GDC rolled around I was already worn thin working and prepping my novel, and then after the drive up and back each day I was totally exhausted, so at the end of each day I’d just feed the cats and crash.

So this morning, I got up, earlier this time, in more than enough time to make the first talk … and said, “screw it.”

What a relieved feeling! Felt like the best decision that I’d made in a long time. I cleaned house, did laundry, played with the cats … and then popped open the work laptop around the time I’d normally LEAVE for work and worked for a few hours. Yes, that’s right … I took a break from my vacation to work. Not that I want to, but there are things that need to get done that take a lot of “wall clock” time but not lots of programming time, so I answered some email, submitted a changelist, fired off a Mapreduce …

… and then took a two hour nap on the futon in the library with a cat on my chest.

It was a pretty good day … so far. And it isn’t over yet.

-the Centaur

ok i decide to go out now u wait for me ok

Pictured: the two-laptop setup I use to keep my work and writing life distinct (just change the cables to give a different computer the main monitor) and Gabby, my very most computer literate cat.

The RTS That Would Not Die

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

starcraft at christmas

Over the Christmas holidays I and my friends like to play some kind of cooperative computer game. The realtime strategy game (RTS) Starcraft is our current favorite, though Left For Dead 2 is nipping fast at its heels. This Christmas, I went into a Best Buy, and idly checked to see if it was still for sale. As I expected, it was. But still, this shocked me:

starcraft is still 19.99

In case you don’t get the point, it’s an eleven year old computer game – and it still sells for19.99. Even, as of this blogging, on Amazon. That’s eleven million copies – a million a year – at $20 bucks or more a pop, for a total of two hundred and twenty million dollars. I’m sure that copies sold for more or less, but counting all the related media, you’re talking a quarter billion dollar franchise.

starcraft ten year anniversary game

If you’ve ever played it seriously, you know why.

-the Centaur