Another strange and tricky year pulls to a close (a few months after I promised a return to weekly blog entries – we’ll get to that in a moment), and what has happened? Well:

Academic

Firstly: my book is now out! Counting this post as a slightly-delayed December post, I’m going to do a proper “launch” blog post as January’s blog entry (including a preview of the first chapter), but for the time being, I am incredibly happy to announce the thing is finally out. For the readers of my blog who aren’t in the academy, the price will drop in time as paperbacks emerge, but for the readers who are in the academy: any encouragement for your libraries to collect the volume would be wonderful, and if you want to review it for a journal, I’m sure I can arrange to get a copy send to you. It is rather scary having such a big piece of work “out there”, especially a work that is so predominantly conceptual and very much about relating my own ideas on the matter rather than (as my next book will be) very empirical and data-based; but I’m happy with the work, and I think it stands up and adds something meaningfully new to how we think about unpredictability in games.

Otherwise, publishing has been good this year: along with two papers that just came out in the past week to sneak into the 2018 publishing calendar, it has been another productive year of five journal publications. A free version of each can be found at the hyperlink!

Inclusion and Exclusion in the Digital Economy: Disability and Mental Health as a Live Streamer on Twitch.tv.

What’s it like to be a streamer on Twitch with disabilities or health conditions, and what opportunities are there for these demographics on the platform?

The Impacts of Live Streaming and Twitch.tv on the Video Game Industry.

What broader effects are live streaming in general, and Twitch specifically, having on the wider games industry?

Esports Consumer Perspectives on Match-Fixing: Implications for Gambling Awareness and Game Integrity.

What do Esports viewers think of match-fixing as a form of cheating, and how are gambling ecosystems increasingly becoming interwoven with competitive gaming?

Casual Games before Casual Games: Historicizing Paper Puzzle Games in an Era of Digital Play.

How can we conceptualise paper puzzle games within game studies as a discipline, and why are they worth studying in the first place?

“The Biggest Legal Battle in UK Casino History”: Processes and Politics of “Cheating” in Sociotechnical Networks. 

What are the human and nonhuman components required to allow “cheating” as a game practice to take place, and what does this show us about cheating as a discourse?

Alongside these, I’ve also begun alongside my colleague Dr Tom Brock to research loot boxes, especially the perspectives of designers and developers implementing them into their games. We have a paper under review on the topic now, and we’re also co-editing the first academic journal issue dedicated to examining loot boxes and the gamblification of digital play more broadly. The call for papers can be found here and we’re very excited about the submissions we’re received. This has undoubtedly become one of the most important contemporary issues in digital game design, production, and play in the last three to five years, and we’re glad to be part of the initial push for research into this new area.

Game Dev

Although it might not look it, progress on URR 0.8 has been made; I’d say around a third to a half of the remaining stuff from the start of this year has been coded. I’m still not giving a deadline, but I’m back to programming (albeit slowly), going to get 0.8 out, and then probably going to call it a day on the project from there. 0.8 is a gigantic, titanic release, and frankly far larger than I should ever have made it; and, of course, the game development process for URR has in many ways taught me numerous lessons about precisely how not to go about making (and “marketing” a game). I need to get this version out to feel happy about the game, however, and to feel that I have really created something that comes close to what I originally imagined. As we approach release I will start posting a lot more about the development process, as I very much want to build up at least a little bit of the “hype” the game had a year and a half ago, and which has since been lost; although I recognise that might be tricky. Nevertheless, I think it is time to bring a close to the project, and underline it is a (hopefully) impressively detailed world simulator which did some very new stuff with PCG, and consider that to be the conclusion of the work. Perhaps in the future I’ll come back and add some more PCG systems to it, but perhaps not; so much has changed in my life in the seven years since I started making the thing, and although it’s vital to me to get 0.8 out, I don’t think a project of this sort is the right thing for me going forward indefinitely. In the coming months once 0.8 is out I intend to write up a series of reflections on the whole project, as I think I have some advice to offer others, like me, embarking on these sorts of grand mega-projects for the first time.

Other

So: why no blog entries? Well, soon after making my last post here, a parent had a heart attack and I had to rush back to the UK for several weeks; then after that, applying for jobs on top of catching up on my academic work completely pushed me under, and I haven’t really been able to surface. This, as long-term readers of this blog will know, has largely been the pattern of the last eighteen months or so: just one thing after another, and continually finding it hard to return to an even, steady equilibrium of work, health, personal life, creative pursuits, and so forth. As ever, I remain hopeful for 2019, but we’ll see. The “crisis” of these last few months has now passed, however, as my parent is recovering, I’m on top of the applications process, and on top of my academic work, and so I do feel once again confident that I can hit a monthly blog post: but let’s just see how it goes, shall we? Either way, I hope you see you all later in January for a proper launch of my book, and getting into a proper monthly blog post rhythm. Hope you all have had (and continue to have) a wonderful winter break, and see you then!

8 Comments

  • Happy new year to you, and best wishes for the new year (especially to the recuperating parent). The last one really had it within itself, not only for you; but let me quote Monty Python’s tune from »The Life of Brian«:

    „life’s a piece of sh**,
    when you look at it,
    but don’t forget to dance and smile and sing ––
    and ––
    always look on the bright side of life”.

    I’m looking forward to reading your book and papers (provided that I can spare a little more time than usual and put myself into analysis gear, figuratively spoken 😉 ).
    I believe treating the URR 0.8 release as final, whether it is complete in the sense of full intended playability or not, is a good choice. Blast, whenever you feel like it, you can always pick up the code and add to it (and ask the fan-base what they think of it, sort of a mixed direct–indirect research).

    Be well, a big thumbs up, and (hopefully) we hear more from you again!

    • Thank you my friend, the same to you! And ha, I love that song. Do let me know what you think of the papers if you get a chance; and I agree on the URR front, there’s a finality and a closure to that I really need, especially now my life structure has shifted in a direction where the long-term maintenance or development of a project on that scale just isn’t viable…

  • Hi Mark, congratulations on being published. I actually work in an academic library, so I’ll see if I can get collection development to order a copy of your book for us. And I’ll look forward to the updated version of URR whenever it’s done. Hope you have a great (and healthy) 2019!

  • I just want to say that your blog, as well as URR have been truly inspiring during the last 3-4 years I’ve been following your work. I am looking at picking up a few of your books associated with procedural design. The work you have done on procedural generation in graphics is amazing just from following along on your blog. I will also keep an eye out for anything else you might have coming down the pipe.

    Also, if you did any articles or books outside of your blog on graphical procedural generation, I would be very thankful for a point in the right direction. Your books didn’t appear to be specifically about that, but I will certainly check it out if I’m mistaken.

    • Thank you so much for this message! Especially at a time when I’m finally returning to actual game development, this really means a lot to me, and I’m so glad you’ve been following along! You’ll have to let me know what you think of 0.8 once I get it released in the very near future. I’d take a look at my chapter in Tanya and Tarn’s book, but you’re right to say most of my academic work isn’t really on procedural content generation. I do look at it a lot in my book, but that’s from a more conceptual than practical point of view. And thanks again for posting this, I really do appreciate it a TON.

  • Hey Mark!

    Sorry for not posting on the latest blog entry, but this felt more appropriate with regards to the nature of the message and it being a response to this entry really.

    So I have been following your blog I think from probably the first year or so of the URR project, when it still had fantasy elements and stuff. And there are so many words I want to say about all of your fantastic achievements. But also about the fact that you have been so open and provided an insight to what it means to delve into creative passion driven projects, and in areas where one has no previous knowledge on top of that. And how we can actually integrate projects like these in our lives. And how to live and to thrive with them if life allows it, who by the way always finds a way to throw you off course – although not always in an entirely bad way. So THANK YOU so so much for everything so far! I will keep following the blog and keeping updated via Twitter.

    This journey has been massively inspirational for me on so many levels; personally I’m a strong believer that PCG is one of the most important creative tools we can utilize to tread where no one has explored before. Like something from a futuristic Borges novel. Who by the way you got me into. And it ended up changing my view on literature a fair bit as well. Recently also borrowed Number Zero by Eco, who I also know you’ve stated as an inspiration for URR. So thanks for that too.

    When I started reading your blog entries all these years ago (then probably around 21 years of age) it was the first time ever I felt a real connection and could identify with the mind behind the words, on the topic of games and creativeness. The fascination for history and culture and games, passion, problem solving, attitude and fearlessness towards learning. All of these are things I’ve never been able to discuss with a like-minded person and as a result I’ve always felt lonely and trapped in my own creator mind maybe like many others around the world, often finding myself unable to convert my visions to something tangible and true to its origin. Your blog entries have been giving me a reference for this and provided much help on the subject.

    I’ve also been taking a peak onto twitter every now and then, which i mostly got for keeping track of your work. And after stumbling over Darran Anderson, @Oniropolis (imaginary cities) on Twitter, in a post which related to your Twitter somehow, I’ve found so much amazing art to explore and experience too.

    So I don’t know what I can contribute with in the end – but I would love for you to check out these projects if you haven’t heard of them. They are very close to my heart and has, like URR, actually changed the way I look at games and how they can be used as a tool for understanding our world:

    – Outerra. The PCG supported game engine based on real geographic data, which made me realize the “problem of scale” in almost all video games published to date with a very few exceptions. I have never had a similar experience in a digital sandbox world like this before, that captures what it actually FEELS to explore our world IRL after all. I even got deja vu feelings recognizing areas from home which is definitely a weird and unique thing in a game environment.
    – Real Lives 2010. From my understanding this “game” was done as a project to raise awareness for social issues around the world such as poverty and lack of fresh water. In my opinion it is the best and most effective tool in encouraging global altruism and understanding to date. It also gives a sense of scale and makes you realize how different your life could be, or actually even should be haha, coming from a statistical viewpoint, at least in my case.

    I can also recommend the recent documentary movie “Free Solo”, which I think highlight many of the struggles of following a deep passion and has many parallels to creative endeavors which are often introvert in its nature (or at least practice) too.

    I posted this here on the blog just in case someone else of your fantastic readers would be interested in any of it. Sorry for this reply being such a mess in structure and wording, but we can’t all be academic geniuses 😀

    If you ever find yourself in Stockholm, Sweden, feel free to reach out if you fancy going for a beer or something =)

    Looking forward to 0.8 immensely. Keep on fighting the good fight and most importantly take care of yourself and your loved ones!

    /Max

    • Wow – thank you so much for this comment! It is absolutely amazing that the game and the blog have had that effect, and I can’t tell you how great that makes me feel. I think we are the same age, then, since I think I started the blog when I was 21! Or 22, I’d have to go back and work it out. I’m so glad it opened up the creative process and all that (and naturally, do feel free to email me about this stuff) – and yeah, that’s a fantastic Twitter feed. I always got a lot of ideas from there, and loads of thoughts I’d like to maybe explore in some future game instead. And re: “don’t know what you can contribute” – honestly, my friend, comments like this are such an emotional boost to me, especially at a time when it has been so long since a URR release and so much interest has faded, and things like this really do keep me going.

      Now, thank you for these recommendations. I have never heard of Outerra, nor RL 2010, nor Free Solo, but I will be sure to give them all a look. I very much appreciate the suggestions! And that would be lovely – I certainly will! I don’t plan to be up in Sweden (or anywhere nearby, sadly) for the rest of this year, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I know for a fact I will be in Finland next year, and I’ve somehow never been to Sweden or Norway, so I might turn it into something of a leisure trip alongside the conference in question…

      Anyway: thank you so much for this, and the kind final words, and the feeling is mutual. I’m in a much better place than I have been for the last year, and unless the universe decides that’s unacceptable and crushes me back down again, it will hopefully continue for some time…

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