Gweek podcast 138: From Russia with Doubt

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In each episode of Gweek, I invite a guest or two to join me in a discussion about recommended media, apps, and gadgets. This time my guests were:

Ramez Naam, a computer scientist and the H.G. Wells Award-winning author of three books, including the sci-fi thriller Nexus, which has been optioned as a film by Paramount and director Darren Aronofsky. The follow up title, Crux, came out in August.

Dean Putney, Boing Boing’s software developer and Gweek regular, whose self published a book of his great-grandfather’s World War I photos.

Danimal Cannon, a touring chiptune and heavy metal musician who occasionally composes music for indie video games. His album Parallel Processing was recently launched as the soundtrack for the new game Wave Wave on iOS.

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Show Notes:

Ramez's picks:

Geekomancy and Celebromancy by Michael Underwood: Fun, witty, insider-joke filled geek urban fantasy.

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Interview with Ed Fries, creator of Halo 2600

In 2010, Ed Fries, a former Microsoft VP of game publishing, programmed an Atari 2600 version of Halo. The game, titled Halo 2600, has now been added to the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Smithsonian magazine interviewed Fries:

I don’t want to get too caught up in "Art" with a capital A in a sense, because then it becomes this whole kind of pointless argument about what is art to begin with. I think what matters is, can we tell human stories in a way that affect people—maybe change how they feel about themselves, or the world or exposes them to something that they haven’t been exposed to before? And in the game business, that simple thing is actually pretty hard. I mean, it’s taken us many years and a lot of technological advance to be able to make realistic characters on a screen that look like people, that don’t look like robots, that move like real people, that when they talk, the way their mouths move or eyes sparkle. You know, that doesn’t make you feel like you’re looking at a puppet—that makes you feel like you’re looking at a real human being. Once you get past that, then you open up the door to tell real stories about real people but in a way that’s different than a movie because the player’s in control. And that’s the promise for video games.
"Demaking Halo, Remaking Art: 'Halo 2600' Developer Discusses the Promise of Video Games" (Smithsonian) Read the rest

World's largest private collection of video games

Michael Thomasson, 31, has the world's largest collection of video games. The Buffalo, New York man's basement is filled with approximately 11,000 games (and consoles to play them). According to the Associated Press, Thomasson started collecting when he was 12 but sold everything twice: first, to buy a Sega Genesis, and then in 1998 to pay for his wedding. Thomasson is featured in the Guinness World Records 2014 Gamer's Edition that, unfortunately, does not include any photos of fat twins riding motorcycles or Robert Wadlow. Read the rest

Eating hot peppers and reviewing video games

In the curiously compelling Hot Pepper Gaming video series, hosts eat hot peppers and then review video games. Here, Erin Schmalfeld enjoys a habanero pepper before telling us about Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. Read the rest

Super Mario Rock Opera, by Song a Day guy Jonathan Mann, debuts in NYC Aug 17

Singer-songwriter Jonathan Mann, best known as the Song a Day YouTube star, has a cool new project that those of you in New York can enjoy.

"My Super Mario Rock Opera goes up at Joe's Pub this Saturday, August 17th," he says. "The one-line pitch: Mario becomes self aware. Would love to see some happy mutants there!"

I ran into him recently at our blogging pals Laughing Squid's barbecue in Brooklyn; he shared this news with me there, and I knew many of our readers would dig it.

As many of you may remember, Jonathan wrote me a song --all for me! it was amazing!--called "Kittens in Space," to cheer me up when I was going through treatment for breast cancer, and gagging on chemotherapy. The song worked. Watch it below.

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Video game lets you kill the most scientifically accurate zombies yet

The Last of Us is a new video game about the zombie apocalypse. But not just any zombie apocalypse. The Last of Us zombies are based heavily, and accurately, on a genus of parasitic fungus that really does take over the brains and bodies of non-human animals like tarantulas and ants. Kyle Hill has a lot of delightfully horrifying things to tell you about this fungus at the Overthinking It blog. Read the rest

Short film about Ralph Baer, the “Father of Video Games”

PBS Digital Studios profiled Ralph Baer, the “Father of Video Games”

Ralph Baer’s inventing career began following a two-year service in the military during World War II. Returning home from Europe, he went to school on the G.I. Bill and graduated with a B.S. in Television Engineering. In 1955, he joined an electronics firm called Sanders Associates, which did work for the military. Still there in 1966, he began work on an electronic box that would allow people to play games on their televisions. The working invention was later licensed as the Magnavox Odyssey and became the first home console system for video gaming in 1972. Last year he celebrated his 90th birthday – the same year the Odyssey turned 40. Here he talks about those early days of video game history and why now, at 90 years old, he's still inventing.
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Bang bang: Science, violence, and public policy

I was on CBC Radio 1's Day 6 last weekend, talking about some of the reasons why scientists can't answer key questions about guns — whether current gun policies do anything to reduce violent crime, for instance, or whether more guns cause less (or more) violence. In a related debate, you should also read the article on the science of video games and real-life violence that Brandon Keim wrote for PBS' NOVA. The truth is that this branch of science also has big problems connecting cause and effect and, as with gun policy research, the best kinds of experiments can't really be done for logistical and ethical reasons. Read the rest

Buckner & Garcia's "Pac-Man Fever" (1982)

Buckner & Garcia perform "Pac-Man Fever," from the 1982 album of the same name, on American Bandstand.

North Korea uses western video game music in propaganda

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea used Jeremy Soule's theme tune from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in a fiery propaganda video. [Kotaku] Previously: Modern Warfare 3 clips used in NK propaganda. Read the rest

A helpful reminder: Video game consumption is not correlated with gun violence

The focus on video games as a source of American gun violence is driving me a bit crazy, so I just wanted to toss some evidence out there. Even though most of you have likely long suspected the two things were not related, you'll be happy to know that science agrees with you. Consider this a helpful kit for forwarding to concerned relatives. Here's a 10-country comparison that found no correlation between video game consumption and gun violence. Here's a Harvard Medical School summary that explains why some people claim video games cause violence, and why the studies behind those claims aren't actually telling us that. And here's a PBS FAQ explaining a lot of the same issues. With violent video games (as with everything else) context matters. Read the rest

Happy Birthday, Walt! Oswald the Lucky Rabbit will finally get a voice (in Epic Mickey 2)!

It's Walt Disney's 111th birthday today, and there is news from the video game world that probably would have made him smile: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, his pre-Mickey Mouse, silent-era creation, is finally getting a voice after 85 years! Oswald has appeared as Mickey's (silent) partner in 2010's Epic Mickey, but the sequel to the game, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two (which just came out for Wii U, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, and Mac, PC coming in January), will let him speak for the first time ever. Who will be providing the voice of Oswald? None other than the legendary voice actor, Frank Welker, who is now the official, permanent voice of Oswald for any future cartoons. My Disney-loving heart has melted. (via Mashable)

Photo credit: Disney Wiki Read the rest

Atari Flashback 4 console

AT Games has released the new Atari Flashback 4 console, this time with wireless joysticks. It's loaded with Asteroids, Missile Command, Space Invaders, Jungle Hunt, Centipede and 70 more classics, but not E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Here's the menu:

3D Tic-Tac-Toe, Adventure, Adventure II, Air·Sea Battle, Aquaventure, Asteroids, Backgammon, Basketball, Battlezone, Black Jack, Bowling, Breakout, Canyon Bomber, Centipede, Championship Soccer, Circus Atari, Combat Two, Combat, Crystal Castles, Demons to Diamonds, Desert Falcon, Dodge 'Em, Double Dunk, Fatal Run, Flag Capture, Football, Frog Pond, Front Line, Fun with Numbers, Golf, Grand Prix, Gravitar, Hangman, Haunted House, Home Run, Human Cannonball, Jungle Hunt, Maze Craze, Miniature Golf, Missile Command, Night Driver, Off The Wall, Outlaw, Polaris, Realsports Baseball, Realsports Basketball, Realsports Soccer, Realsports Volleyball, Return to Haunted House, Saboteur, Save Mary, Sky Diver, Slot Machine, Slot Racers, Solaris, Space Invaders Space War, Sprintmaster, Star Ship, Steeplechase, Stellar Track, Street Racer, Submarine Commander, Super Baseball, Super Breakout, Super Football, Surround, Tempest, Video Checkers, Video Chess, Video Olympics, Video Pinball, Warlords, Wizard, Yars' Revenge
Atari Flashback 4 (Thanks, Charles Pescovitz!) Read the rest

MoMA's new videogame collection

New York's Museum of Modern Art has acquired 14 videogames that will be playable in a gallery there beginning in March 2013. According to Paola Antonelli, the MoMA's senior curator of architecture and design, these titles are "the seedbed for an initial wish list of about 40 to be acquired in the near future, as well as for a new category of artworks." I'm delighted that my favorite game, Pac-Man (1980), was part of the initial acquisition. The others include: Tetris (1984), Another World (1991), Myst (1993), SimCity 2000 (1994), vib-ribbon (1999), The Sims (2000), Katamari Damacy (2004), EVE Online (2003), Dwarf Fortress (2006), Portal (2007), flOw (2006), Passage (2008), and Canabalt (2009). "Video Games: 14 in the Collection, for Starters" Read the rest

Real Myst "linking book"

Mike Ando creating a Myst "linking book" with an embedded screen to play realMyst.

Steven Johnson's favorite video games

Author Steven Johnson spoke to the Gameological Society about his latest book, Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age, and the games he enjoys playing.

The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?

Steven Johnson: Well, I’m on book tour, so there’s very little play. When I get home, I will no doubt be watching my children—who are obsessed with Uncharted 2, or Uncharted 3, I guess—on the PlayStation. Which I might join them a little bit for. Book tour tends to suck up all your spare fun time.

Gameological: Is it a different experience for you, playing games with your kids? As opposed to gaming before they were around?

Johnson: The coolest thing that we had for a while there—they haven’t been playing it as much—we had this great thing going which one of these days I want to write about. We both were playing kind of separately that game Dawn Of Discovery. It’s a beautiful game that simulates a 14th-century trading empire. It’s a classic simulation, very complicated, with lots of variables. One of the things that’s so powerful about it as an intellectual exercise is that you have to think on all these different scales and from all these different perspectives. So you have to think like a city planner, an admiral, a spice merchant, some industrialist type who is building an iron mine, and this is what they’re doing for fun, building this little trading empire.

What are you playing this weekend? Read the rest

Ohio State Marching Band halftime show of video game theme songs

Halftime performance of The Ohio State University Marching Band during a game against Nebraska on October 6. A "video game" theme, with music from Zelda, Halo, Pokemon, Tetris, and others.

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