400 Years: a surprisingly short game

Boing Boing linked today a quick, fun flash game called 400 Years, Here's the link to play, in which you play a strange little stone totem who has only 400 years to stop some great catastrophe. It took me a little playing around before I realized that you didn't just get to wait forever -- that whenever you waited, you were wasting time before the catastrophe hit, and you could conceivably wait the whole four hundred years, and lose.  I did fine the first time through, then I decided to check out what happens if you don't make it.

At top waiting speed, you only pass about a year a second, so it took a while.

While you're waiting, you see the world change before your eyes.  Where I stopped to lose the game, I saw two trees grow from saplings to extraordinary heights, then fall down, and new saplings sprouted in their place.

The game involves waiting for huge periods of time, but it also occasionally involves doing stuff -- manipulating physical objects like seeds you need to plant.  These seeds dry out and go away if you hold them while you're waiting, so sometimes you need to figure out how to get around without using the tricks of the long time scale.

Loss-condition spoiler below the fold:

You don't actually get to see what the catastrophe was that you failed to stop, if you don't beat the game.  The waiting stops suddenly, the earth begins to shake, the screen goes white, and then you see an image of burning trees, and the message,

TOO LATE... THE WORLD HAS BURNED TO ASHES.

GAME OVER

The win/lose conditions are pretty cool, but the story you see unfolding on the timescale of centuries is even more beautiful.  I highly recommend this game.  Here, again, is the link.

Is magic art?

Cory Doctorow posted a video, embedded below, that asks that question: [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNGDoroJtYw]

A lot of the magicians interviewed draw a distinction between hobbyists, or birthday party performers, and the people who "raise magic ... to an artistic level."  This distinction bugs me -- particularly, it bothers me because in more mainstream artistic professions, we acknowledge that practitioners are artists even if they aren't creating their own art, even if they aren't very good at it.

Acting is a good example.  A performer who is in a school production of Romeo and Juliet is participating in the creation of art.  If they do a bad job, then they do a bad job.  But you can't fail to create art of some quality if you're trying to do something artistic.  Reproducing other peoples' art is art.  Reproducing banal, overwrought art is art.  Doing magic tricks that you learned in a book, badly, is still art.

art v. pornography

One of the magicians said, "If a person doesn't feel, there is no art."  He dismisses pornography as not artistic, because it's too visceral, and drew the analogy between that and magic.  He called most magicians 'magic pornographers.'

This highlights the biggest problem I have with arguments about what is or isn't art -- people dismiss the kinds of emotions that seem to relate most to our bodies, or our visceral experience of life, as not-art.  People say that cooking isn't art, that porn isn't art, that, apparently, magic isn't art, because the emotions and experiences they evoke are present, rather than evoking something less present, some sort of sense about the future or the past.

I guess what they're defending is a sense of art as immortality -- for example, they dismiss any artist that does other people's tricks, and argue that what makes a trick artistic is trying to put your own emotions, your own story, into it -- but I think we're seriously missing out if that's all that we consider art.

Art doesn't have to be a unique expression of the person creating it.  Art can be a more general expression of an idea, by someone who just wants to help that idea along.  Amateur magicians who want to help create a sense of wonder in the world are artists because they're working to encourage and promote the importance of an emotion.

Not everyone has something new to say, and there's power and significance in creating art that's just there to say "I agree," or "Hey, remember, this is important."  That's why cooking is art.  That's why porn is (granted, sometimes extremely problematic) art.  That's why magic is art.[1. I should note that there are certainly examples of self-immortalization in cooking, porn, and magic.  Unfortunately, the case that usually gets made in this argument is "That's not really porn," or "That's not really just a magic trick," and I imagine there must be cases where someone or other has argued, "That's not really food."]

I think that we have an intuitive understanding that art is important, and I think that dismissing things as being not-art is an attempt to avoid accepting responsibility for one's relationship with culture.

That is all.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell TV show!

I heard some important news this weekend.  So important, in fact, that I nearly dropped everything I was doing to write a post about it, and schedule it for Monday.  Unfortunately, I was busy at the time.  Even more unfortunately, I later forgot what the important news was. So I spent much of today trying to figure out what it was.  I couldn't remember where I'd seen it. I couldn't remember what I might have done with it.  I seem to have forgotten to write anything down about it.

But I found it.

The BBC is making a TV series of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. 

(News via io9)

It's going to be 6 episodes long, hopefully hour-long installments or longer -- a much better division of the story than a movie, which had been discussed before, because this book is very long, very rich in detail, and not entirely singular in narrative.  Also:  the book is divided into three major parts, which would fit six episodes nicely.

It's being directed by Toby Haynes, who io9 praises as the director of key episodes of Doctor Who and Sherlock. Those episodes, according to Den of Geek, are The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, for Doctor Who, and The Reichenbach Fall, for Sherlock.

Oh my crap this is going to be so awesome I can't even begin to imagine how great this is going to be.

The Magic Clock

(via Massimo Banzi's TED talk via Boing Boing) I've felt for a long time that the best way to make sense of science, as an element of human ability, is to think of it as being, basically, magic.

That's not to say I think science is, or should be, inexplicable.  But science in real life and magic in a lot of fantasy novels have something essential in common -- they're about learning the basic rules of the world's behavior, so you can exploit, bend, or hack them.

Sometimes it feels like this is a tough sell.  But sometimes, it's just incredibly obvious that I'm right.

This is the clock from the Weasley's house in Harry Potter.  The one that points not to the time, but to the location of all the family members:

This thing works.  It actually points to the location of the family members displayed, using twitter to pick up location cues.  The only thing it requires externally is a place to plug it in.  This is the coolest thing I've seen so far this week, and I think it's proof that science is basically magic.