Practice 2013 got off to an excellent start with a talk about breaking competitions. This is an area I know basically nothing about, so it was fascinating to hear about the issues involved: subjective vs (supposedly) objective methods of scoring bboy battles, cultural concerns around commercialization vs retaining a “raw” (and thus more authentic) battle experience, gender issues, and the degree to which bboy performances resist being made more accessible.

Several people in the audience compared bboy competitions to Street Fighter matches, but I’m not a very competitive player of video games.

I am, however, very interested both in playing and in attempting to create virtuosic games — pieces that inspire awe and surprise because they accomplish something that one would assume was impossible. I sometimes feel a bit guilty about this taste because skill is not the only criterion of quality, and because I do not want games culture to be as exclusionary as breaking culture appears to be. Talking only about high-end craft can make it seem like one is only interested in showing off or placing people in hierarchies of skill.

Still, watching the breaking battle after tonight’s talk reminded me of the human value of virtuosity. Because those dancers were amazing. Watching them was exciting and surprising and funny and joyous.

Admittedly I may be the only person on earth who yells “Holy shit!” when I see some really awesome parsing taking place.

4 thoughts on “#PRACTICE2013”

    1. At the time they came out (even if not as extraordinary now):*

      Balances — renamable objects. Other games have done this since and it’s gotten easier with later systems, but at the time it looked pretty hard to me.

      Aisle — huge range of accepted input well outside the parameters of what’s usually covered.

      Rematch — ability to parse commands involving far more than the usual number of nouns and verbs.

      Worlds Apart — meticulous disambiguation handling well outside the norm for the period. IIRC, it would sometimes add information when disambiguating to give the player extra ways to refer to things.

      Shade — so-subtle-you-barely-realize-it’s-amazing handling of scope and automated movement between spaces in order to interact with objects.

      Return to Ditch Day — creamy-smooth implicit action handling.

      Honorable mention: Forever Always — adverbs! It’s imperfect in spots but still very fun.

      * I cannot guarantee I actually literally shouted that for each game on this list.

  1. And while this isn’t exactly parsing, I have to respect Robin and Orchid’s autogenerated puzzle hints this year, as well as the management of how photographs are taken and disambiguated. It also looked like some pretty hard stuff was going on in Ollie Ollie Oxen Free.

  2. Thanks! The only ones I’ve actually played are Aisle and Shade (and a few turns of Return to Ditch Day, and a communal play of Worlds Apart that petered out quickly). And Shade may have been the second IF game I played so the scope and movement were pretty much invisible to me. I’ll try to get to more of these when I have time! …le sigh.

    (After the nightmare of the doors in “Faithful Companion” I can imagine sighing with pleasure at good disambiguation.)

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